June 7, 2007

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Gracie (PG-13)
If you let a girl play sports, she won’t get involved in brief sexual content, the only reason the otherwise fairly clean Afterschool Special-ish Gracie is rated PG-13.

I suppose the scenes of cigarette-smoking, which has been added to the list of things that get the MPAA’s collective undies in a bundle, probably up its age appropriateness as well. But this is movie is an otherwise wholesome cheer for Title IX. When girls get to compete — really compete — at sports, they stay out of trouble and live healthier, drug- and pregnancy-free lives, Gracie tells us.

Gracie (Carly Schroeder) seems to be an all-around good kid as the movie kicks off in New Jersey, 1978. Her biggest problem, in fact, isn’t hers at all — her father (Dermot Mulroney) is too busy trying to turn his sons into soccer stars to notice his daughter. Luckily for Gracie, she has the support of her big brother Johnny. Unluckily for Gracie, on the night after Johnny loses the big soccer game, he gets into a car accident and dies. Now left without her most supportive family member, Gracie’s mom (Elisabeth Shue) and dad don’t notice their daughter letting her grades slide until she fails history and they don’t notice her wild behavior — boys, smoking, sneaking into discos — until she steals a car and is found making out in it with a much older boy.

Determined “not to lose another child,” Gracie’s dad pulls himself out of his depression enough to train Gracie to try out for the boys’ soccer team (there’s no girls’ soccer team and Gracie’s not interested in field hockey). He doesn’t totally believe she can do it — a mentality that Grace recognizes and resents — but he tries to prepare her physically and mentally for playing with boys who are stronger, faster and rougher than she is. Gracie, however, won’t accept the expectation that she’ll be a comparative weakling nor does she accept the taunts of the boys on the team or the initial ruling of the school board telling her she can’t try out.

Gracie is absolutely the story you expect it to be: big game at the end, training montages, obstacles to the dream — all the usual sports movie stuff. And yet I’ll give it credit for not being a complete fairy tale. Gracie isn’t shown as being physically equal to the boys, she doesn’t win them over with a stirring speech at half time. And Gracie’s mom isn’t some idealistic women’s libber either (they still had those back then). She’s of the mind that Gracie should stick to girls’ sports and that being a woman sometimes means accepting limitations (she does, of course, confess a youthful dream of being a surgeon).

For a movie to get your daughter jazzed about sports, check out Bend It Like Beckham or the documentary The Heart of the Game. This movie is a little too simple to offer any great new insight on the subject. C+

Rated PG-13 for brief sexual content. Directed by Davis Guffenheim and written by Lisa Marie Petersen and Karen Janszen (from a story by Andrew Shue, Ken Himmelman and Guggenheim), Gracie is an hour and 32 minutes long and is distributed in wide release by Picturehouse.