White girls can't kick. Can they?
Distilled to its essence, that's what Gracie is about: a teen female soccer wannabe struggling to compete in the sport she loves during the neolithic days of the late 1970s, when the most strenuous school activities available to girls either involved volleyball nets or pom poms.
Gracie Bowen, the only girl born into a boy-rich, soccer-crazed family, can knock a bottle off a car hood with a soccer ball from 20 yards away—barefoot, even—and has an outsized competitive streak. But soccer's a boys' sport, her father says. It's 1978, he seems to be telling her, go inside and knit something.
The Bowen family takes a serious tumble when Johnny Bowen, a high school soccer star and Gracie's older brother, is killed in a car crash. Gracie decides to honor his memory by playing for the Columbia High School soccer team. She's positive she can help trounce archrival Kingston.
Nothing doing, she's told. Her father—a loving but slightly crazy soccer dad—refuses to help her, the high school coach won't let her lift weights and all her would-be teammates either laugh at her or knock her on her backside. Sometimes both.
Summarily rebuffed from the soccer scene, Gracie funnels her energy into other activities, such as shoplifting, stealing the family car and cheating on history exams. Finally Gracie's dad relents and throws her into a harsh training regimen involving long runs, constant calisthenics and catching raw eggs with her feet. It's the kind of training only Rocky would love, but Gracie relishes every minute. Why? Because she loves the game. And she loves her brother.
Indeed, Gracie is a love story: Love of family, love of sport. It's a study on how that love can manifest itself after the worst of tragedies. Gracie turns petulant and rebellious. Gracie's father retreats from responsibility and even reality, glued to late-night television as Gracie sneaks out of the house. Gracie's mother silently frays scene by scene. But slowly, the Bowens find their way back from the brink.
Progress toward redemption is shown as halting, at times uncertain—much as it can be in real life. Gracie's father is a driven soccer nut, one step away from being a caricature of what's wrong with youth sports today. He pushes his children through drills, and deep into the film he admits Johnny probably played as much to please him as for any love Johnny had for the game. He has trouble connecting with Gracie and, when he finally commits to working with her, he punts his job and neglects to tell his wife.
That's not good, but his intentions are: "I'm not going to lose another child," he tells his wife. And Dad's drills and (eventual) patient persistence wind up being the tough love Gracie needs.
Gracie's mother is a more sacrificial character. She's a soccer mom who could do without soccer, but one who probably never misses a game. There's a sense that Mom is "losing" her little girl in this film—to the sport, to her husband, to the simple tick of time. But she accepts it with the quiet, gentle smile so familiar to mothers everywhere.
But the family, and the film, revolve around Gracie. She's loaded with sass and dedication, and her spirit is sterling silver—albeit a bit tarnished. She exhibits more than her fair share of negative adolescent stereotypes and pitfalls (which we'll deal with later in the review), but her relationships with her brothers—Johnny, before he dies, and her younger brother, later—are things of beauty. They make a Shakespearian Band of Brothers, even though one's a girl.
Themes of salvation run throughout the film, but it's soccer that does the miracles here, not God. The sport works magic through its beauty and toughness and demand for sacrifice. Johnny's funeral takes place in what looks to be a traditional protestant church. "How Great Thou Art" plays in the background.
Gracie not so much experiments with sex as uses it as a form of rebellion. She sneaks into a nightclub and dances with designated soccer jerk Kyle Rhodes. Blaring music from KC and the Sunshine Band—"Do a little dance/Make a little love"—foreshadows what (nearly) happens later: In the parking lot, Kyle comes on strong. She goes along for the kissing and hugging part, but when he tries to push her down on the hood of a car, she resists. (It turns out Kyle and his buddies have a laughing bet made over whether or not she'll give in to his charms.)
Gracie comes closer to losing her virginity with a total stranger in the back of the family station wagon: She pulls off the boy's shirt and lets him roll on top of her before her dad arrives and breaks things up.
It's soccer that finally pulls her away from sex. It's certainly not her best friend, who declares that Gracie's dad is "hot" and that, if Gracie doesn't stop playing these boys' sports, people will think she's a "lesbo."
One of Gracie's younger brothers says girls lose their brains "when their boobs grow out." Another one retorts, "Then Gracie must be really smart." Mom and Gracie both wear low-cut tops. Gracie and her friend lay out in bikinis.
Soccer, at least in this film, is a heavy-contact sport, and Gracie is knocked around plenty. She gets (intentionally) head-butted by Kyle, which gives her a seriously bloody nose. She's kicked in the face by another bruiser—this assault shown in slow motion. After Johnny dies, Gracie's dad tears down his homemade soccer goal in a rage.
Crude or Profane Language
Characters use the s-word no fewer than four times. There's also a sprinkling of other curse words ("a--," "b--tard," "h---," to bleep a few) thrown in for good measure. Gracie exclaims "oh god" when a workout has been particularly difficult.
Drug and Alcohol Content
Gracie's friend shows her how to smoke cigarettes without getting smoke in her eyes. Gracie holds a cigarette, but is never seen actually smoking it. The two teens also sneak into nightclubs, though neither is shown drinking.
Other Negative Elements
Sure, Gracie is looking for a little R-E-S-P-E-C-T—but she could dole some out on occasion, too. She talks back to coaches and parents, steals her parents' car, shoplifts, sneaks out with a would-be boyfriend, sprays graffiti on a tunnel wall and (as mentioned) scams her way into a nightclub.
Most of these scenes are in the film to show how Gracie is spiraling out of control. But even when soccer reels her in from her most dangerous pastimes, she's still pretty sassy—and not in the good way. She hits her father and pushes him away. She says "screw you" to a coach and "bite me" to a teammate. She's mastered the standard, sullen adolescent glare. But outside of grounding Gracie for cheating on a history test, Gracie's parents don't punish her for either her attitude or actions.
Characters wage two bets during the film: the aforementioned sex bet and one earlier on, when Johnny bets a couple of loitering dudes (the only people in the film who look like they belong in the 1970s) that Gracie can't smack down a bottle with a soccer ball.
You really wouldn't have to believe me if I told you that Gracie is a PG-13 remake of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, minus the reindeer, Santa Claus and that elf who wants to be a dentist. But Gracie's got game, and still no one wants to let her play. And Rudolf had exactly the same problem. Title IX—a national law that theoretically gives women equal access to sports—was still in its infancy. Soccer star Mia Hamm was 7 years old. Gracie, through the sometimes faltering help of her family, has to find a way to compete in those pesky reindeer games.
"If you want to limit yourself, that's fine," Gracie's mother tells her. "But don't let other people do it for you." Ultimately, Gracie doesn't.
The story is inspired by Oscar nominee Elisabeth Shue's own childhood, and the film is essentially a Shue family project: Brother Andrew produced and acted in the thing. Another brother John also was involved. Elisabeth (who plays Gracie's mom) co-produced, and hubby Davis Guggenheim directed. Shue family home movies grace the credits at the end, and a quote from Elizabeth in sixth grade punctuates the action:
"When I grow up I would like to play soccer. Many girls are afraid to play sports with boys. But after you score a few goals you feel a lot better."
So in that sense, Gracie is a family film. And surely gazillions of young soccer-playing girls will clamor to see it.
But though it boasts an undeniably uplifting message, the movie is flawed. Gracie's luminous grit is clouded by rebellion and backtalk, and the story's moral message—"don't limit yourself"—is carried too far by Gracie flouting family, school and state law. Artistically, the film is better than the standard made-for-television movie-of-the-week (before he directed Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Guggenheim was primarily known for his TV work). But it's not much better. Carly Schroeder is effective as Gracie, but Elisabeth Shue gives herself very little to do and spends most of her all-too-rare screen moments perfecting that clenched-mouth smile of hers.
In short, this is an imperfect film about an imperfect family, with the spotlight squarely trained on a feisty, imperfect teen. And yet it still does a pretty good job of proving John Lennon right when he sang, "Nothing you can do that can't be done/... All you need is love." (And a soccer ball.)
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Carly Schroeder as Gracie Bowen; Dermot Mulroney as Bryan Bowen; Elisabeth Shue as Lindsay Bowen; John Doman as Coach Colasanti; Christopher Shand as Kyle Rhodes
Davis Guggenheim ( )