There isn’t much to get excited about in the multiplex lately. One threequel after the next, more franchises, more things to sell. But every once in a while, something fresh breaks through.
Gracie, Davis Guggenheim’s post-An Inconvenient Truth Oscar win, is one such thing. It’s a film that has a history to it, has a reason to exist other than to make money and delivers a valuable message to the weaker sex.
Despite its good intentions and a well-rounded performance by its star, Carly Schroeder, a poorly written screenplay proves to be its ultimate undoing. The result is a sweet and moving after-school special. Perhaps this isn’t a strong enough recommendation to pay to see the film in the theater, but just between you and me, supporting this film will mean that better, more interesting and original work will be produced. The blockbusters don’t need your money.
Gracie is a Shue family joint, meaning it is inspired by actress Elizabeth Shue’s young life. Shue is married to Guggenheim. The film was produced by and also features Shue’s brother Andrew. Elizabeth had been one of the boys, playing soccer with her brother until they outgrew her and she could no longer play.
The film follows Gracie (Schroeder), a good soccer player who keeps up with her older brother, who is the father’s shining soccer star. When the brother is unexpectedly killed in a car wreck, Gracie decides that she wants to take his place on the varsity soccer team.
The screenwriters try to be hard on the character of Gracie by not giving her any natural talent or any breaks from anybody. Her father thinks she’s just a girl whom he can’t take seriously, the love-interest soccer jock turns out to only want one thing from her and even her best friend thinks she’ll be a “lesbo dyke” if she continues to play soccer.
She has to fight her way through every step of the way or else face the same fate as other Jersey girls – wearing short skirts, getting drunk, getting knocked up, you know the drill. All she really cares about is soccer, and she’s ready to commit fully to becoming a team player.
It takes a whole movie to get to the payoff. At times you think it’s coming, but it never does. These loser-turn-winner sports movies are always worth hanging in with because there is always a sweet payoff. Always. In this film they don’t try to sell us the idea that a girl can play with the big boys, but just that with enough work and skill anything is possible.
What is nice about the film isn’t even the soccer story so much, but the time in our recent past it covers. Springsteen’s “Growing Up” was on the radio, girls wore lip gloss and lied about their ages to get into clubs. Looking back on that era it almost seems like it was all very innocent, especially compared to the life in the fast lane where teens today reside.
The story may be all over the place in some ways, but it’s where it needs to be when it counts.
The real find is Schroeder as Gracie. She’s capable of carrying the whole film on her spirited shoulders and is so interesting to watch that you almost forget about the plot holes and the missteps.
The other thing that’s important, especially at a time when all of the media’s attention is focused on bad role model Paris Hilton, is that it is a film about women focusing their strength and talent in a more productive, challenging, useful direction. It is inspiring to see a film where a girl decides she can do more than just look pretty on the sidelines cheering the boys on. Who says we can’t grow cojones when we need them.