Gracie (2007)

DVD Cover (New Line Studios)
Davis Guggenheim Davis Guggenheim
Jesse Lee Soffer Jesse Lee Soffer
Christopher Shand Christopher Shand
Carly Schroeder Carly Schroeder
Karl Girolamo Karl Girolamo
Vasilios Mantagas Vasilios Mantagas

6.2 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Genres: Coming-Of-Age, Drama, Period Film, Sports Drama
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Review by bluemeanie
Added: December 02, 2007
Real life fascinates me. I guess that's because 'real life' is what I always seem to find myself living in, despite any attempt at cinematic escapism. So, when I heard that Elisabeth and Andrew Shue were producing and starring in a film dedicated to the memory of their deceased brother William, who was killed in a freak swimming accident while on family vacation - I was interested, to say the least. The film actually combines their brother's death with the real life story of Elisabeth, who played soccer with the boys for as long as she could before dreams of Olympic gold figured their way into the mix. "Gracie" is the resulting film, one of those inspirational sports movies that is just brimming with heartfelt emotion and overly simplistic resolutions, not to mention the stock ending that seems about as credible and authentic as a peanut putter sandwich with legs. The film finds its director in Davis Guggenheim, Shue's real life husband and the director of the Academy Award winning documentary "An Inconvenient Truth". He's come a long way since Al Gore, switching from powerful and insightful documentary to bland and disappointing family drama. If you have yet to guess it, "Gracie" was a chore of a film, from beginning to end. It's just not very good.

I have to respect the reasons for Elisabeth and Andrew Shue wanting to see the film made, and I admire their determination and resolute attitude in seeing the film to fruition, but I wish they had paid more attention to developing a stronger storyline and recruiting more capable actors for the roles in the film. Instead, they spent most of their time and energy focusing on the death in the film, which I think does an extreme disservice to the picture itself. I know they're paying tribute to their deceased brother, but a film like this is supposed to explore themes of life more than death. That's how you pay tribute to someone. "Gracie" focuses too much on the same old cliches of how the father of the family cared more for his athletic son than anyone else. I will say this - the father in the film is not portrayed as some selfish brute who doesn't care about anyone but his dead son, as we see so often in sports themed films. He loves his family, but maybe loved his son just a little more because of their similarities. Dermot Mulroney plays the father. Maybe a stronger actor could have handled the material better. Mulroney doesn't do a poor job, but he certainly doesn't explore as much as another performer might have. He instead finds this one note between grief-stricken and quirkiness that he plays throughout. It works some times. Some times, it really falls flat.

As the father, he stars as Bryan Bowen, who gave all of his time and attention to his oldest son, Johnny (Jesse Lee Soffer), the star of the local soccer team and all around great human being. When Johnny is killed in a car accident, it tears him apart. His only daughter, Gracie (Carly Schroeder), thought of her big brother as her best friend and is probably hit the hardest by his death. She decides that she wants to take over Johnny's position on the school's soccer team, despite the fact that girls aren't supposed to play soccer and her father is less than supportive. Her mother, Lindsay (Elisabeth Shue) doesn't want her daughter getting hurt, but wants her to be happy. Gracie wants her father to train her, but he refuses at first. After some time and some added convincing, he agrees to train her and that's when most of the redundant little cliches start creeping into the mix. We see the endless and tiring scenes of Gracie training. How many push-ups and crunches do we need to see before we get the picture? We see the couple of scenes showing that the father might not have total faith in his daughter. We even get the rudimentary scene where Gracie gives up, only to have her now revitalized father convince her to hang in there. "Gracie" is so filled with these attempted 'tug at your heart strings' moments that we just get sick of them. It's an assault of the senses.

Earlier in this critique, I mentioned that the performances could have been stronger. That note is a universal one. I have already discussed how Mulroney's character might have been better played by another performer, and the same can be said for Carly Schroeder as Gracie. She feels unequipped for a role like this and that shows in everything she does in the film. I never got the sense that she was emotionally committed to her character. As long as you're physically fit and know how to shed a few years, these kinds of roles are not rocket science. They come pretty easy. It's nice to see little shreds of originality in their conveyance. The film "The Greatest Game Ever Played" was not a good film at all, but at least Shai LeBeouf showed some originality in the choices he made with his character in that film. Here, we get textbook reactions to textbook set-ups, nothing more. Even Elisabeth Shue seems miscast as the mother in the film. Her days of strong dramatic work seem to be behind her, and even though this story is such a personal one for her, I didn't get the sense that she seems very enthralled with what she was doing. I didn't see the energy or excitement.

Just because a film has good intentions doesn't mean it's a good film. Does that make it a better film than a picture without? Maybe. That's a little too deep for a film like "Gracie". It's a film that was more personal than professional, I think. Director Davis Guggenhim obviously has a knack for the documentary format, and maybe he needs to stick with that, because "Gracie" proves that he is certainly no Werner Herzog. He doesn't know what to do with this material. I assume he took the project because it was so personal and important to his wife, Elisabeth Shue, but you have to wonder how the director of an Academy Award winning documentary goes from that to a film about a little girl who wants to play soccer with the boys? It's mind boggling. But, I guess family makes us do a lot of crazy things. Typically, I don't review films that I see so late and didn't really care for, but something wanted me to write about "Gracie". As an inspirational sports film, I guess it's not nearly as bad as some I have seen, but it's certainly not original. "Gracie" might be a film the family can enjoy, but I don't think you're going to be singing its praises as loudly as "Rudy".

4/10 -- Kick the Bucket Long Before It Kicks A Ball.
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