There I was, watching a heartfelt drama about a family suffering the tragic loss of one son, and the TV suddenly switched over to a lame afterschool special. Oh, wait, it was actually same movie. Based in part on the real life story of producer and star Elizabeth Shue, Gracie can’t be faulted for its sincerity. The emotional core of the story is real enough, as Shue really did suffer the loss of a beloved brother, but what follows is lacking in either originality or subtlety.
In the movie, Gracie Bowen (Carly Schroeder) is a tomboy in a sports crazy family, but only her older brother, Johnny (Jesse Lee Soffer), the high school’s soccer star, seems to notice her. It’s the 1970s and, at least in the movie’s universe, girls just didn’t play sports, especially not soccer. Suddenly, on the way home from a heartbreaking loss, Johnny is killed in a car accident. Gracie decides to channel her grief by taking her brother’s place on the soccer team and the afterschool special begins.
Of course, her macho dad (Dermot Mulroney) won’t coach a girl to play soccer with the boys. Her overprotective mother (Shue) tries to smother such a “dangerous” impulse. Needless to say, the team’s coach and other players aren’t receptive either. Gracie’s response is to start sleeping with her boyfriend and otherwise acting up until her parents start to respect her ambitions.
While the story springs from the death of Elizabeth Shue’s brother when they were teenagers, the story of Gracie trying filling his place on the team is more of an exercise in wistful “what if” than autobiographical. The early parts of the film, dealing with the relationship between Gracie and Johnny and then the effects of his death, are so raw and real that I figure a better movie could have been made by spinning the story in a different direction.
The film’s message of female empowerment is not invalid but it’s hardly novel and not really worth the effort it takes to get there. Gracie never really rises above the level of Whitney Houston song in screenplay form.
I feel like a bit of a heel being so hard on this movie. As I said, the sentiment is genuine. Carly Schroeder is appealing and capable in the lead role. I only wish that performance and that emotion could have been channeled into a more worthwhile film.