'Gracie': Girl athlete on boys team in a tale as comfy as an old Shue

Posted: June 01, 2007

Given the walloping impact that Title IX has had on our culture, it's amazing this hasn't been reflected more often in movies.

An exception is "Gracie," the story of a Jersey girl who, in the 1970s, decides she wants to play for the boys high school team.

The story is loosely based on the experiences of actress Elisabeth Shue, whom most think of as part of an acting family (brother Andrew starred on 'Melrose Place').

But the Shues were soccer mad back in the day, and Elisabeth was the only girl playing in the South Orange area in the 9-13 boys leagues. Her older brother Will captained a high school team that won the state championship, another played at Harvard (like his father) and Andrew went on to play at Dartmouth.

The film is a labor of love for the Shues, in more ways than one. The project is dedicated to Will, who died in 1988, a tragedy that finds its way into the fictionalized story that became "Gracie."

The film stars Carly Schroeder (of "Lizzie McGuire") in the title role - a talented athlete with no outlet for her gifts. She sits by, frustrated, as her father (Dermot Mulroney) coaches her brothers in the backyard.

When a traffic accident claims one of her brothers, though, Gracie channels her anger into a determination to play competitively. Her father objects, causing a rift in an already damaged family, and she becomes an outcast at school.

Gracie picks up an unexpected ally in her mom (Elizabeth Shue), who sees the tragedy pulling the family apart, and sees Gracie's soccer dream as a goal all can rally around.

Thus does "Gracie" become an underdog sports movie, a formula that's hard to screw up. "Gracie" has some effective moments, as when the men in her family begin to come around.

There are a few clunky scenes as well. The movie tries a little too hard to weave in wholesome messages about how athletics can keep kids out of trouble - soccer saves Gracie from the perils of drugs, alcohol, dropping out, and being pressured into sex.

These social lessons sometimes make "Gracie" feel like a telemovie, but it has enough good moments to make it worthwhile for soccer fans. *

Produced by Davis Guggenheim, Andrew Shue, Elisabeth Shue and Lemore Syvan, directed by Davis Guggenheim, written by Lisa Marie Petersen and Karen Janszen, music by Mark Isham, distributed by Picturehouse.

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