Well, color me confused. This feature film stars both Carla Gugino and Marley Shelton, but it’s not titled Elektra Luxx, and it’s certainly not a movie about a porn star. Instead, this is a movie about a basketball team at an all-girls’ Catholic school. Lest your adult mind conjure up any fantasies regarding plaid skirts and knee-high stockings, adult-only audiences will feel equally discombobulated thanks in equal parts to the G-rating and lines like “sometimes angels wear high heels,” which are spoken without a trace of irony.
The high heels in question belong to Gugino, who stars as coach Cathy Rush, a rookie with absolutely no coaching experience to speak of but with the requisite fire in her gut. Rush only gets the job coaching the women’s basketball team of Immaculata College because there were no other applicants; unfortunately, the college is on the brink of bankruptcy, and the administrators are skeptical that a basketball team can work any positive purpose except “to suppress the girls’ hormones.” Rush accepts a very small salary only to learn that her team has no practice gym (the old one burned down), no uniforms, and only one ball with which to practice. There is, however, an abundance of nuns cheering on the sidelines, and Rush supposedly has what it takes to whip these indistinguishable players into a lean, mean, fighting … you know the drill.
Certainly, the story will not be unfamiliar to anyone who’s watched any of the numerous sports dramas in recent history. Mighty Macs is a lot like like Remember the Titans and Glory Road but with women’s rights instead of racial issues. It’s like Hoosiers but without a coach with a checkered past. It’s like Gracie without a bunch of Shue siblings and an oddly unappealing Dylan McDermott. It’s like We Are Marshall without a sweaty McConaughey. It’s like so many other underdog team sports dramas based on a true story, yet all the characters fit neatly into their stereotypical little compartments. Hell, even the assistant coach of Mighty Macs fits the bill as the conflicted sidekick — Shelton plays Sister Sunday, a young nun who is questioning her commitment to the order before taking her final vows; Sunday hears Coach Rush’s whistle and takes it for a sign of God, so she signs on as Rush’s plucky assistant. To complete the somewhat holy trinity of lead characters, Ellen Burstyn plays Mother
Superior St. John, who is skeptical that the new coach can turn things around for the college. Not to hard to imagine that one, right?
And Rush does work wonders by leading Immaculata’s Macs to its first national championship (and a couple more in subsequent years before she was named to the Basketball Hall of Fame). As a matter of fact and since this movie is set in 1972 before Title IX really took effect, Rush struggles against historical constraints to guide the Macs in winning the very first women’s college basketball title in existence. The story sets forth a very important period in feminist history — one in which the establishment dropped the guise of protection that previously kept women out of full-court games. Coach Rush is also considered an anomaly because she’s a married women who also chooses to hold down a job. Naturally, this causes problems at home for her husband, Ed (David Boreanaz), an NBA referee who doesn’t want his wife to work and truly resents it when she’s not home to cook his dinner every single evening. The subplot of their marriage grows a bit tedious but nevertheless also a necessary reflection of the time in which husbands were generally offended if their wives chose to find fulfillment outside the home.
While The Mighty Macs has a good tale buried somewhere within its G-rated confines, the true story isn’t granted any favors by the script, which fails to entertain in the process. The movie is mindbogglingly earnest with insufferably good intentions and inescapably inspirational life lessons that’ll nonetheless serve as decent viewing material for junior high and high school female basketball teams. Otherwise, it’s not very compelling viewing for anyone beyond the very narrow target audience, but since there aren’t many women’s sports movies out there, the Mighty Macs serves a noble purpose even if it fails somewhat in its execution.
In the end, coaches like Cathy Rush don’t just help players become better at their given sport by forcing them into countless and seemingly endless practices with drills and other such rote physical challenges. They inspire them mentally and spiritually too. I had a high school coach who gave the corniest speeches in the world, but somehow the tactic worked to bring us players together as a team. No matter how much my teammates and I physically suffered together (and grew to loathe each other in the process), those damn speeches before a game would always bring us together and do at least as much as the practices themselves to push us towards a victory. In retrospect, I can’t believe we bought those clichéd “words of wisdom,” but those words kept us working towards a goal. In the end, it was all worth something, but we’d have never had the opportunity without the those who came before. Those like Cathy Rush.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She and her little black heart can be found at Celebitchy.