Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 23 November 2008
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock - http://www.lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
Growing up in a houseful of men is challenging for any female, but would have been even more so for those who had to make the journey in more unenlightened times, which sadly, were not so long ago.
Gracie Bowen (Carly Schroeder) is a teen in the late seventies with three athletic brothers, the eldest of whom she worships. Johnny Bowen (Jesse Lee Soffer) is the only person who believes in Gracie’s skill and instills in her the mantra,” You can do anything.” As a male, Johnny has all the advantages, from varsity soccer options to his father’s undivided attention. Two younger brothers are merely practice partners; Gracie’s merely a girl. That sums up Bryan Bowen’s (Dermot Mulroney) thoughts on his only daughter. To illustrate Bryan’s capacity for tenderness, we are shown how he lovingly cares for his nearly catatonic, wheelchair dependent father (Madison Arnold), who lives with the family.
Gracie’s mother Lindsay (Elisabeth Shue) is a resigned housewife who never got the memo on the female empowerment that embodied the 70’s. She is seen hauling groceries, cooking dinner, driving a station wagon and smiling sadly at her competitive family, with whom she confesses she has nothing in common. Gracie has no support in any area of her life. Her mom, her best friend, and virtually every male scoffs at her in derision, screaming, “You’re a girl!” as if that were some kind of valid explanation for not trying to excel or match the standard for excellence. Even when it’s not screamed, it is spoken calmly with an even more disheartening implication.
Johnny’s sudden death takes away her only advocate, and the status quo at the Bowen house becomes too much for Gracie to bear. After pleading with her father to train her to take Johnny’s place on the varsity soccer team, he completely rejects the idea, (and in doing so rejects his daughter, although he can’t or won’t see it). She acts out, rebels in typical but dangerous fashion. Sneaking out of the house with Kyle (Christopher Shand) a varsity soccer star who drives a sports car and encourages her increasingly wanton ways. This turns into the first of many betrayals for Gracie.
Her behavior worsens. Neglecting her schoolwork, she takes her mother’s car (she’s only fifteen) drives into the city, meets strange older guys and almost loses her virginity. Her father intervenes in the nick of time – not the way Gracie wants him to prove he cares. She is sullen and mouthy and communicates her anger by not communicating when it really counts. Mom looks on tragically and takes on a second job because Bryan quits his Mayflower moving man position after reconsidering the possibility of developing Gracie’s soccer skill.
Gracie is inexplicably hostile at her father’s change of heart and wastes several training months sulking. To his credit, Bryan does not give up on her and leads the way for Gracie to try for a spot on the varsity team in her brother’s place with his number (7). Gracie has a hard road ahead of her, enduring cheating, manipulation and rampant chauvinism by her teammates. The coaches look on in an “I told you so” manner. You’ll yearn for a 16-ton weight to drop on these cavemen. Surprising mom power comes through toward the end of the film, when strong female logic kicks in. The males kick back – this is soccer, after all.
Assistant soccer coach and history teacher Owen Clark, (Andrew Shue) is another adult who looks on while Gracie wages her battle. He’s a witness, not really a help, but at least he’s not actively trying to bring about her downfall.
Gracie is based on real events in the life of Elisabeth Shue, although efforts were made not to market the film as such. The underdog element, institutionalized sexism and chauvinism, and the power of determination serve as thematic backdrops. That it happened to Shue was merely incidental; the bigger picture is one of gender discrimination and ultimate triumph.
Academy-Award-winning director Davis Guggenheim (best documentary, An Inconvenient Truth) does a good job of conveying Gracie’s despair. The New Jersey weather is rainy and dismal. The family home, dreary and lower middle class, gives a stifling feeling to the film, constricted and confined. There are some great tight shots of Gracie’s icy glare and slow disillusionment.
Carly Schroeder is convincing as the beleaguered Gracie and is a blue-eyed contrast to her brown-eyed parents in more ways than one. Dermot Mulroney seems too young to be the father of such a large brood, due to the era’s longer hairstyles. Elisabeth Shue seems older than her years, as if the entire family’s welfare rests on her shoulders. Madison Arnold, as the invalid grandfather, serves as a kind of conscience for the family. His perpetual gaze of non-comprehension is a fitting commentary for the film’s dramatic developments. Christopher Shand captures the adolescent, underdeveloped and overblown ego of a white male teenager with the world at his feet (in the shape of a soccer ball).
Although largely predictable, you’ll cheer for Gracie’s efforts to “Bend it Like Bowen.”