Gracie is one of those “inspired by true events” films where writers are
allowed encouraged ordered to take creative liberties by basically pulling crap out of their asses to make a more engaging and marketable film. Unfortunately, the writers of Gracie, either by direction or during a moment of conscience, molded the film into the predictable formula often employed for sports films. The result may not be realistic, but it is a very hurl-inducing and protracted ninety-five minutes produced, directed, and (to a large degree) acted out by the Shue family. Production was done by John Shue, along with siblings Elisabeth and Andrew, and the latter two appear in the movie, which is directed by Elisabeth’s husband, Davis Guggenheim. If you haven’t guessed, this is a rather incestuous affair.
The film is set up so that anyone who might criticize its apparent goals will immediately be deemed heartless. The story unfolds in South Orange, New Jersey in 1978, after Title IX had been legislated but before its impact was widespread. Young Gracie (Carly Schroeder) is a headstrong and feminist athlete whose soccer-playing stud of an older brother, Johnny (Jesse Lee Sofer), is killed in a car accident after a game. After Gracie decides to take Johnny’s place on the team, she must first convince pretty much all of humanity to allow her to play on the all-boys team (everyone from her parents to the school board of course thinks that a girl isn’t meant for soccer, unless her name is Beckham). Thematically, Title IX really just functions as an afterthought to loosely tie this storyline together. This isn’t a movie that spreads out the history and mission of gender equality — it just latches onto an overdone premise and uses it to advance the Shue family’s agenda. And, of course, the concept of “Girl Power” runs though our athletic departments and pop music heavy-rotation lists already. Men everywhere are now scared out of their wits to give a congratulatory backslap to female colleagues for fear of being sued for sexual harassment (or, worse yet, being zig-a-zig-ahed). This is shit we know already, without this film stuffing it down our throats.
Yet stuff it down our throats this film does, and we must suffer through the story as our heroine suffers. Poor Gracie gets knocked down for a few months by parents who refuse to let her play varsity soccer. She sulks through this requisite timeframe by engaging in a rousing game of juvenile delinquency. She smokes. She steals. She cheats. She flunks history class. The horror of it all! And she makes out with college boys until her father (Dermot Mulroney) uses his apparent Jedi powers to locate the family car on a beach, thereby disclosing a half-naked coed writhing atop his daughter. Only then does he decide that perhaps a girl on the varsity soccer team ain’t such a bad idea after all, and he goes so far as to quit his job so he can coach her to varsity level. This puts financial pressure on the family’s blue-collar lifestyle, which is a measure of sympathy written into the film in lieu of the rather affluent Shue family’s financial reality.
In fact, most of the significant aspects of this story are largely contrived. Although the film is dedicated to the memory of William Shue, who was the inspiration for the Johnny character, the movie’s character is made so much more tragic than is necessary. For example, when Johnny screws up what could have been the winning kick against their rival team, he falls dramatically onto the field in shame and disbelief … and then he promptly dies in a car wreck, no questions asked. While William Shue indeed was the captain of a high school soccer team that captured the New Jersey 1978 state championship trophy, he did not die in such a dramatic manner. He met his demise a decade later from injuries sustained in a tree-climbing accident. Likewise, Elisabeth Shue didn’t even play soccer in high school — she quit after her junior-high years (presumably to pursue certain adventures in babysitting). Gracie, however, continues to play soccer, complete with endless training sequences set to Bruce Springsteen tunes and a highly predictable ending.
Working with the assumption that most of the characters in Gracie are inspired by real people, boy howdy, did Elisabeth Shue hate her mother. Elisabeth portrays mother Lindsay Bowen as if Shue couldn’t stand the bitch, announcing every discouraging sentiment out of Bowen’s mouth in a sing-song voice. She tells Gracie soccer is out of the realm of possibility because “not everything is possible,” and “life is like a shit sandwich, and us girls all get to take a big bite.” While Gracie’s father coaches her through soccer drills and countless sets of pull-ups, mother Elisabeth appears on the porch for the sole purpose of cheerily announcing, “I think it’s too much for her,” before disappearing into the ether.
Andrew Shue, meanwhile, takes up the very minor role of Assistant Coach Owen Clark, who is rather easy to confuse with Dermot Mulroney’s character. The striking physical similarities might be due to the Shue family’s ability to assimilate others for their cause, or perhaps the film’s makeup artist just really rocked the mascara wand. Mulroney comes off rather well as the angry, grieving father who slowly accepts his daughter’s athletic potential. Andrew Shue, however, does little but excel at glowering at the camera. His few lines are uttered in the same manner he employed on Melrose Place, and mostly, he just stands around with a very intense look on his face, perhaps wondering where the hell Heather Locklear is. Meanwhile, while the characters of Gracie and Johnny work well enough, their level of affection is exaggerated due to the short amount of time Johnny is actually alive during the story. The resulting vibe is reminiscent of Angelina Jolie and James Haven on the red carpet, so there is an unintentional tone of relief when Johnny bites it and ends up in his early grave because, otherwise, this film could have turned into Flowers In The Attic.
Ultimately, Gracie is a rather irrelevant movie that functions as little more than Elizabeth Shue’s way of recreating her own history, romanticizing her eldest brother’s death, and stamping her family’s legacy into the minds of future impressionable young female soccer players. When Gracie meets the celluloid screen, the phrase “loosely based” can be translated into “what Elisabeth Shue wished she would have accomplished as a teenager.” Which means that the film’s message isn’t really to stand tough and fight for your right to jockey. Rather, it’s more like this — Girls, it’s okay to screw around and choose not to follow your dreams because, someday, you can pursue you right to recreate your personal history. But make sure you remember to marry a successful film director who will indulge these whims.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and tries to avoid reality at all costs. She also insults pop culture daily at agentbedhead.com.
Gracie / Agent Bedhead
Film | June 1, 2007 | Comments ()