Making the Grades
Personal triumph stories are my favorite kind. But nothing is more distasteful than feeling like I've been hogtied and force-fed an inspirational tale.
Gracie is loosely based on the family life of Elisabeth Shue. (She plays the mother in this film and her younger sibling, Andrew Shue, plays Coach Owen Clark.) Like the title character, Elisabeth lost an older brother. She was also raised as the only daughter in a soccer-crazy family. In her youth, the actress competed on all-boys teams from age 9 to 13, since no organized girls' leagues existed in her hometown. But playing with the boys in the Under 13 league is a whole different game than tackling a varsity high school team like the situation depicted in this movie.
After the accidental death of Johnny, her older soccer star sibling (Jesse Lee Soffer), Gracie (played by Carly Schroeder), who's rarely had a chance to compete even casually with her brothers, wants to take up the sport and fill in his position on the high school team. Devastated by the loss of his son, her father, Bryan Bowen (Dermot Mulroney) scoffs at the idea of a girl seriously participating in the sport at all. Shocked by the severity of her father's response and still grieving herself, Gracie spirals out of control, stealing the family car, engaging in underage drinking, sneaking into a club, shoplifting, failing school and offering sexual favors to an older man, without any apparent remorse or consequences.
Finally waking up to his daughter's problems, Bryan quits his job, leaving his wife Lindsay (Elisabeth Shue) to support the family so he can spend two months helping Gracie learn the game of soccer. Although cocky and insolent, the young athlete begins to develop her ball handling abilities, spending long, lonely hours on the practice field taking shots at an empty net. Yet while her proficiency improves, she still struggles to dribble past her male teammates during practice. Even so, she is there on the bench for the team's first game of the season.
And that is the film's biggest flaw. I want to be inspired. I want to see her achieve. I want to watch girls (and boys for that matter) succeed on the athletic field, in the band, in academics or whatever their endeavors. But I want to really believe they can do it. Gracie is so contrived at times it is hard to choke down. Watching her train for a couple of months and then be ready to perform at a senior level is far-fetched, if not demeaning to the athletes who've supposedly spent years honing their skills.
Staying true to the sport's film formula, Gracie portrays some hard work and athletic grit, but even with a desire to honor her brother's name this player's off-field actions deserve more than a yellow card warning for family viewing.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about Gracie.
Following Johnny’s death, each of the family members grieves in a different way. How does Bryan deal with the loss of his son and his own hopes for his son’s success? What effect does it have on his parental involvement with the other children? How does Lindsay respond to the tragedy? What are the consequences for Gracie?
How does Bryan perceive his daughter? In what way does Johnny’s death eventually change Bryan’s view of Gracie? Do you think that would have happened without the accident?
What part does natural talent versus desire play in athletic, academic or musical ventures?