For parents weary of Disney movies that open with grim public hangings and kids So Totally Over the Shrek franchise, we have for you now this Gracie, a gritty tale of New Jersey's seedy soccer underbelly that flouts all sports movie conventions to reveal that sometimes having the "heart of a winner" just isn't enough. Actually no, it's pretty much just a sports movie where people (a girl) overcome mildly significant obstacles (dead soccer-star brothers and institutionalized sexism) to succeed during the big game (in the rain) and then to be loved and adored by everyone (even her dad) except maybe the one guy who is kind of a villain but probably just written that way.
Let's get this out of the way first: Gracie features a caged bird. Not just any caged bird, oh, no, my, but a caged bird discovered by the titular character in her Saintly Dead Brother (SDB)'s bedroom. Gracie then proceeds to feed this bird and watch it get fatter and fatter until she has a blowout fight with her best friend, who is like "You're a whore and a dyke and that bird is too big for its cage!" (don't worry they make up later). So then Gracie carries the bird around for awhile longer, and it chirps and allows her to be filmed with its cage's bars in the foreground and everything. Then she frees it. Yeah, she just up and lets this domesticated bird go free. Fly, obnoxious little device. Fly to the very tops of the Metaphor Forest and go live among the Cliché Pines and build your Irritatingly Pointed nest and lay some Screenwriting 101 eggs. That'll be better for everyone involved.
Gracie herself is played by Carly Schroeder, a young actor so engaging that frankly I could watch her glare down Dermot Mulroney (who plays her angry, busted-knee father) for hours upon hours. She's got this beautifully pissed-off voice pitched just a few notches above Scarlett Johansson's and a ponytail that always carries just the right amount of askew. Her Gracie doesn't talk a lot, nor does she back down: when her father refuses to train her, she responds by running off to the Jersey Shore to lie about her age and make out with college boys.
It's a rare film heroine who is permitted to be both athletically and sexually aggressive -- a point not lost on the filmmakers, who make a villain out of Gracie's team captain. Not only is he pissed off about her lady parts trying to make the team, he's pissed off that her lady parts wouldn't give it up to him over the summer, when he totally wanted to do it with her and she totally preferred to moon around and spray-paint her SDB's name on an underpass. The casting department assists in tipping the scale away from Gracie by populating the soccer teams with hulking, handsome men who all appear to be twice her age and four times her weight. A girl playing on a boy's team is sure yeah okay beautiful and inspiring and brave, but let's be honest, it's also hella scary. Gracie gets her ass kicked, and the hits are filmed in painful detail.
Lurking around the film's edges is Elizabeth Shue as Gracie's mother, who at first seems content to fold the laundry and remind Dermot Mulroney not to be such a dick, but who eventually proves to be one of those strong semi-silent women who pick up the slack when their husbands quit their jobs and who make inspiring speeches at school board meetings. Andrew Shue is also there, though I can't remember if his character is ever introduced, he just kind of appears in one scene and looks like he's sad, or happy. There's also that aforementioned best friend, who has really great hair and I guess is important for some exposition, and also there's a boy who would be perfect for the role of True Love of Main Character but who turns out to just be the infinitely preferable Supportive Friend.
It's all well and good: the film has a nice palette to it, the plot doesn't wear out its welcome, and honestly can I say there just aren't a lot of teen movies featuring girls as unabashedly tomboy as Gracie. Amidst the platitudes about winning and sticktoitness is a real sweetness and a total affection for the game. I saw the movie in a theater full of moms and daughters, and honestly if that very fact doesn't make you feel all right about things, I'm guessing you're totally banned from humanity. Winning isn't so bad, you guys. We should try it.