Set in 1978 New Jersey and inspired by real events, this father-daughter sports drama is a Shue-family affair: It's inspired by actress Elisabeth's middle-school determination to play boys' soccer, was directed by her husband, Davis Guggenheim, who also hashed out the story with her brother, sometime-actor Andrew, and it was coproduced by Elisabeth, Andrew and Guggenheim.
Soccer is the glue that holds the Bowen family together. Dad Bryan (Dermot Mulroney) saw his own dreams of a professional career shattered when he blew out his knee as a teenager, and escapes his dreary job with a local moving company by coaching his sons Johnny (Jesse Lee Soffer) a high-school varsity star and younger brothers Mike and Daniel (Hunter Schroeder, Trevor Heins). Mom Lindsay (Elisabeth Shue), who wanted to be a surgeon but had to settle for being a nurse, wishes her only daughter, 13-year-old Gracie (Carly Schroeder), were a little more of a girlie-girl, but she's as sports-smitten as her father and brothers. Unfortunately, only Johnny encourages her athletic interests, and it's hard to say who's more bereft after his death in a car accident, Gracie or her father. After a year of mourning (by Lindsay, Mike and Daniel), near-total withdrawal (by Bryan) and precocious acting-out (by Gracie), Gracie persuades her father to coach her with the goal of getting her onto the school's soccer team. The hitch: There is no girls' soccer team, and hardass Coach Colasanti (John Doman) isn't interested in breaking new ground by adding Gracie to his roster. Emboldened by recent Title IX legislation, which mandates equal resources for girls' athletic programs, Gracie petitions the local school board to allow her to try out. The only question is whether she has the talent, discipline and determination to take her quest all the way to the field.
Though it differs significantly from actual events in ways large and small, Lisa Marie Petersen and Karen Janszen's screenplay sidesteps many of the cliches that transform inspirational sports movies into icky-sticky object lessons without investing it with the freshness of, say, BEND IT LIKE BECKHAM (2002). The New Jersey locations and soundtrack help ground the story in a particular time and place, and Schroeder delivers a terrific performance. Her Gracie is neither a conventional tomboy nor a little plaster saint she feels like a real kid who has the need to challenge received wisdom, then discovers inner resources she wasn't sure she had. Julia Garro also deserves special mention for steering clear of the obvious in the role of Gracie's best friend, who's a little bit wild and more than a little susceptible to peer pressure, but is ultimately loyal when it counts.
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