I didn't expect the next film from An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim to be a fictitious tale about a teenage girl, but stranger things have happened. Gracie is a fairly standard sports movie, but with an attention-grabbing twist: a girl trying to land a spot on an all-boys high-school soccer team in the 1970s. It's a compelling film at times, as well as wholesome entertainment for families, but never breaks free from the trademark cliches of the inspirational sports-film genre that Disney and other studios have been churning out regularly for the past few years.
Gracie (Carly Schroeder) has three brothers, all of whom spend a lot of time being drilled in soccer techniques by their competition-obsessed father (Dermot Mulroney). He dismisses his 15-year-old daughter, though, and won't even acknowledge her when she asks to play with them. After Gracie's older brother dies in a car accident, she decides to honor his memory by joining his soccer team and beating the local rival, something her brother was never quite able to achieve. Her family won't take her seriously, her would-be boyfriend (Christopher Shand) laughs at her, the school won't let her train in the only gym with free weights, and at first she can't find a single person to support her dream. But you know what happens to protagonists in sports movies who have a dream -- you can't keep them down forever.
Unfortunately, the script relies too heavily on telling the audience things rather than showing us. In one scene, Gracie's mom (Elisabeth Shue) gives a stirring speech about how much her daughter loves soccer, but that's not what we've seen in the movie -- her brother has to tell her how to kick the ball in the first scene, which seems unlikely for someone who is so fond of the game. The movie opens with stereotypes that are almost cartoonish, so it's difficult to believe their changes into more human and understanding characters. Mulroney gives a fine performance in the second half of the film, but he's almost a monster in the first half-hour, so it's a tough job for him to try to gain any sympathy from the audience. Shue spends nearly the entire movie looking unhappy and depressed, with the occasional bitter comment; we keep waiting for some kind of explosion or revolution that never quite happens. The dialogue is flat and even anachronistic at times: Were people saying "Not so much" in the late 1970s?
The sports sequences are lively and interesting, even if you're not a sports fan. However, Gracie drags and falters if no soccer balls or weights are present; when Gracie turns to social activities as escapism, I wanted to yell, "Get back to the soccer!" I'm not a big sports fan, either. It's strange to say that the training scenes are more interesting to watch than the dating scenes, but it's true. Carly Schroeder, as Gracie, is able to engage our attention even during chin-ups and the inevitable running scenes. She's a very believable teenager, who simultaneously wants to be on the team and has no compunctions about smart-mouthing the coach she needs to impress.
I expected the movie to end about 15 minutes earlier than it did, after a scene where Gracie encounters achievement with some compromise, in a way that seemed realistic yet satisfying. However, the story continued into the less plausible and utterly predictable ending that audiences expect from this type of film, which is possible since the movie is not actually based on a true story. Andrew Shue is behind the story for Gracie and claims that the title character is based somewhat on his sister Elisabeth, but not to the point where the movie's events had to mirror a real-life situation.
Gracie is more charming and enjoyable to watch than it deserves, primarily because the performances transcend the script flaws. In addition, we can't resist watching a determined young women succeed in a sport that she's been told women can't play, especially on a team with men ... and most especially one that is considered perfectly acceptable for girls and women today. (If it were football, would we have been agreeing more with Gracie's opponents?)