Another unlikely sports triumph finds it way to the screen—in this case, via the high-school soccer field—in “Gracie,” a tale of a girl’s struggle to replace her dead brother on the team based very loosely on the experiences of Elisabeth Shue, who plays the title character’s mother (her brother Andrew co-produced and fills a supporting role, and her husband Davis Guggenheim directs). It’s not a terrible movie; in fact, it’s actually rather nice. But it’s awfully familiar—so much so that it probably should have been called “Trudy.”
In 1978 New Jersey, fifteen-year old Gracie Brown (Carly Schroeder) is close to her older brother Johnny (Jesse Lee Soffer), the star of their high school soccer team, whom their father Bryan (Dermot Mulroney), a former field star himself, has trained—along with his other sons—to be the best. After missing the winning kick in a sectional game, however, a dejected Johnny is killed in an auto accident on the way home, leaving his sister not only to grieve but to strive to take his place on the team. Her father dismisses the idea, however, and his rejection leads Gracie to a fling with campus jock Kyle (Christopher Shand) during a brief period of rebellion. Her troubled behavior convinces Bryan, prodded by his wife Lindsay (Shue), to train Gracie hard and persuade the school coaches (John Doman and Andrew Shue) to let her try out for the boys’ team, much to Kyle’s chagrin. She shows her mettle, but for her actually to take the field will depend on the school board, which is initially opposed to the idea. Happily, this obstacle is overcome and Gracie is permitted to suit up for the big game. But can she actually compete at this level?
If you’ve ever seen an inspirational sports movie, you know the answer to that question before it’s even asked. What saves “Gracie,” to a certain extent, is that while all its moves are old hat, director Guggenheim (“An Inconvenient Truth”) manages to pull them off without undue embarrassment, and his cast is a good one. Mulroney and Shue are convincing as lower middle-class parents struggling to keep their family afloat through grief and financial difficulty, and though Schroeder never really persuades us that she could hold her own against the brawny guys arrayed against her on the field, and has even more trouble with the scenes of Gracie’s rebellion—coming across as a mite young to be fully persuasive—she’s a personable young actress who easily wins the audience’s sympathy. The supporting cast boasts some solid turns—Joshua Caras does an especially nice job in the cliched role of the good-guy neighbor kid who supports Gracie’s ambitions even when the other boys deride them—though Shue’s pallid performance as Assistant Coach Clark suggests that he might have made the proper decision when he abandoned acting for business after “Melrose Place” folded.
Visually “Gracie” looks fine for an independent picture of relatively modest means. Chris Manley’s cinematography is sturdy, and the production design by Dina Goldman, along with the costumes designed by Elizabeth Caitlin Ward, captures a period feel without overdoing it. Mark Isham’s score is overemphatic in the style of such movies, but not horrendously so.
“Gracie” is the sort of film that, like the recent Terrence Howard inner-city swim team picture “Pride,” will pass muster with viewers who like seeing predictable stories like this over and over. But unlike its young heroine, it breaks absolutely no new ground.