The fact that this quiet yet beautiful gem of a film was released on the same weekend as the summer blockbuster "Knocked Up" may give some indication as to why it came and went relatively quickly in the theaters. Still, if you saw the previews for this and/or went to see it when it came out, chances are you agree that it was an impressively well-told story of courage, redemption, and the realization that life simply is never perfect, regardless of how much effort is put forth.
Contemporary sport films have become a distinctive genre that is all their own, and simply seeing the poster for this film may instantly suggest something about defying the odds, standing up against adversity, and meeting with huge successes that are the result of hard work. Isn't that, after all, the general formula of many of the inspirational sports movies that are out there?
However, while "Gracie" emphasizes all those things and efficiently plays out those typical messages, there is something much stronger that makes this film worth your time. It is loosely based on true-life events of actress Elisabeth Shue, who made a name for herself with the 1980's hit "Misadventures in Babysitting." Beyond her acting career, though, there is a story of her childhood that is carried through the character of Gracie Bowens, a teenager who is growing up with a slew of soccer-playing brothers. You can sense immediately that she is struggling with feelings of inadequacy as she fights to be part of the family athleticism, but when a jarring tragedy strikes with her oldest brother, so begins her journey toward making a difference and taking his spot on the varsity soccer team. Gracie knows she cannot take this on without her father's consent in training her--a tall order that creates several barriers against her, even with her own parents. If there's anything that this movie strives for most, it's the sobering honesty of the families, schools, and communities that are not always supportive of what certain people deem as valuable.
Perhaps the single factor that drew me in the most about this film was the execution of Gracie's rebellion early in the plot. In an attempt to curb the pain of her family's loss and cope with Dad's rejection, the young girl compensates with alcohol, skimpy outfits, and flings with guys that go well beyond first base. The scenes were so thoughtfully done, and there was a certain authenticity with how a 15-year-old girl in that situation would be feeling and reacting. Though it's clear that her father's attentiveness would be the one thing to pull her away from his danger, the entire issue is proof of the theory that involvement in sports affords young people the discipline to stay out of trouble.
Beyond this, the theme of "Gracie" basically focuses on the price we pay for pursuing a far-fetched dream (and let's face it, it's not usually a cheap deal). Our heroine is a girl who obviously has the passion and grit to do well, but it is hardly a smooth road, and much of the film focuses less on the glory and more on how much this young lady must do every single day to have a shot at what she is doing. Even when she manages to earn the opportunity to try out for the guys' team, the male world of soccer is not exactly kind to the likes of a girl trying to ease her way in. Viewers will find themselves searching hard for a moment during which they can share in celebrating Gracie's success, but the truth is, the film's plot makes it as tough for us as they do for the main character. The ending is enough to generate a smile without feeling that the story went too far with the saccharine and unrealistic, and to me, that is the mark of a unique, credible movie.
If you did not get to catch this film when it was originally released in theaters, I hope you will get your family together to watch it when it arrives on DVD in September. Aside from a solid script that has something important to say for anyone who watches, it is filled with strong, hard-fought performances from the entire cast. Carly Schroeder has the ideal "athletic beauty" combination that film critics have been talking about regarding her performance, and though she is a relative newcomer (she had a recurring role in Hilary Duff's "Lizzie McGuire" TV series and theatrical film of the same name, but this is her first major role), she lends all the right elements to the character and indicates a promising future career in the Hollywood business. As Gracie, she is a bag of bolts, a fighting spirit, and while she thrives under her father's careful guidance, the real test comes when it is time to get out there and show everyone if she can do it. The way Schroeder executes it is brilliant, and there's no doubt that the casting crew got it just right when they chose her. Dermot Mulroney is terrific as always, delivering big as a grieving and conflicted father. His love for his little girl--his only daughter--is never questioned, but his hesitation in helping her realize her biggest goal involves far more intense factors, especially in a society where female prejudice is still a major issue. Elisabeth Shue--who is, again, the inspiration for the title character--steps in as Gracie's patient mother. Always hopeful, yet never afraid to come forward with the truth, it is an all-around enjoyable film that seeks to inspire in its own way.