For Elisabeth and Andrew Shue, the film “Gracie” is both a labor of love and a family affair–the two of them co-produced it as well as act in it, Elisabeth’s husband, Davis Guggenheim, directed it as his follow-up to the Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” and the inspirational story it tells of a girl trying to join her school’s heretofore all-male soccer team is loosely based on Elisabeth’s own teenage experiences. This is obviously a very personal story for them and I suppose that if you are a member of the Shue family, the film will have a deep resonance. However, if you are not part of that club, you are likely to find the film to be not unlike the sport that it celebrates–90 minutes of aimless noodling around that are only occasionally punctuated by isolated moments that those without a personal stake in the proceedings will find of interest.Set in suburban New Jersey in the 1970's. the film stars Carly Schroeder as Gracie, the only daughter in a family whose lives seem to revolve entirely around soccer–although Gracie is a better-than-average player herself, her father (Dermot Mulroney) is too busy obsessively coaching her older brother, a star athlete in the making, to take any notice or interest in her abilities. There is a tragedy involving that older brother and in an effort to honor him and his dreams, Gracie decides that she wants to try out for the same high-school team that he played for. After finding no support for her desire either at school–where the coaches try to steer her towards the glories of field hockey–or at home–where Dad bluntly tells her that soccer isn’t for girls and Mom (Elisabeth Shue) tries to get interested in more female-oriented things–she abandons her dream and starts drifting into experiments with booze and boys. In an effort to stop her from getting into real trouble, Dad finally agrees to train her and with the help of the recently enacted Title IX decree, Gracie finally lands a spot on the team just in time for the big game–whether the fate of the game rests on her shoulders or not is something that I will leave for you to discover.
The problem with “Gracie” is not that it is a bad film so much as it is a profoundly unimaginative one–there is precious little on display here that hasn’t already been seen before in other, better films. With the exception of Gracie, who at least gets her bad girl digression in the middle third, all of the other characters basically appear to serve their assigned plot function–the bad-boy player gets to sneer and act sexist, Mom gets to fret and Dad gets the unenviable task of having to slowly stand up in the stands during key moments in the game a la Glenn Close in “The Natural” (you keep waiting for the poor dopes behind him to yell out “Down in front!”)–and then fade away until needed again. The story is equally lockstep in the way that it follows all of the parameters of the genre without ever offering anything fresh or exciting in the way that “Bend It Like Beckham” did. The performances are okay–Schroeder is a real find who is convincing both on and off the soccer field–but they aren’t unique enough to elevate the material to a degree that would make the film worth seeing.The message of “Gracie”–that girls can be just as adept at sports as boys and should be allowed to achieve pursue their athletic dreams–is a nice and noble one that only the most retrograde monster who refuse to support. Alas, a nice and noble message does not necessarily make for a good and compelling movie and I have to say that for the young female audience that is the presumed demographic for “Gracie,” the 90-odd minutes that they might spend watching the film would be much better spent by going outside and kicking a soccer ball around instead.