[Screen It]

(2007) (Carly Schroeder, Dermot Mulroney) (PG-13)

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Drama: Following her older brother's death, a late 1970s era high school student must overcome various personal and external obstacles as she tries to make the boys soccer team.
It's 1978, and the South Orange, NJ Bowen family is obsessed with soccer. With the help of dad Bryan (DERMOT MULRONEY), oldest son Johnny (JESSE LEE SOFFER) has become a star on the high school squad, inspiring his younger brothers Mike (HUNTER SCHROEDER) and Daniel (TREVOR HEINS). His closest sibling, however, is teenager Grace (CARLY SCHROEDER), who, despite having a knack for the game, has been shut out from family practices, much like her mom Lindsay (ELISABETH SHUE).

The family is shattered when Johnny's killed in a car accident, eventually prompting Grace to decide she wants to try out for the boys soccer team, not only to honor her brother and keep the family tradition alive, but also to prove she can do it.

Unfortunately, no one thinks she can or should, including her dad, Coach Colasanti (JOHN DOMAN), and current player Kyle (CHRISTOPHER SHAND) who initially appears as if he likes her, but then proceeds to antagonize her from that point on. However, with the support of family friend and current player Peter (JOSHUA CARAS), as well as her mom and eventually her dad, Grace sets out to make the team, no matter the number or severity of the obstacles she must overcome.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Long, long ago (the, gasp, 1970s), in a lifestyle far, far away (a high school student), I was a member of our soccer team. Not remotely resembling a star, I was nevertheless proficient enough to play in all of our games. But the thing I remember most is an incident off the field, when a few of us were goofing around.

A female classmate I barely knew approached us, and while I don't recall what led to an unofficial scrimmage, I do recall both of us contacting the ball at the same moment. It didn't go anywhere, but the shock of both kicks resulted in her going down in pain.

I later learned she broke her lower leg at the spot of a previous break, thus obviously sidelining her soccer playing, although our school didn't have a girls team and no girls ever tried out for the boys squad, despite Title IX -- that prohibited any sort of sex-based discrimination in high school sports -- having been passed a few years earlier.

Accordingly, I was intrigued by the story in and behind the period sports drama "Gracie." The plot revolves around a 1970s era teenager who decides to try out for the boys soccer team -- following the death of her older, soccer star brother in a car accident -- when that hadn't been done before. Facing the usual obstacles, she strives to overcome them through pluck, tenacity, and some luck.

What's most interesting about the story is that it's basically based on the life of actress Elisabeth Shue. Following her brother's death, she similarly tried out for the soccer team and had to deal with the same sorts of issues in her quest. With Shue appearing in the film as the protagonist's mother, her husband Davis Guggenheim directing the film, and her brother Andrew having a brief part while also co-writing the story, this is obviously a family affair with a vested interest in getting it right.

While their attempt is admirable, and the back-story gives the film some added depth (that most viewers won't note until the end credits where old home movie footage shows Shue as a soccer loving kid), the result is just yet another period sports drama that goes through all of the familiar motions.

Working from the story by Shue and Guggenheim, screenwriters Lisa Marie Petersen and Karen Janszen deliver a script that feels honest, but doesn't offer much if anything we haven't seen countless times before in similar films. Of course, there are only so many ways to tell such a story, and they've pretty much all been done before, with this pic adding just another variation of already overly familiar material, including the obligatory soundtrack filled with period appropriate songs, the solo practice at night montage, and much more.

It doesn't help that some of the acting is a bit rough around the edges at times, or that the direction by Guggenheim (best known for directing the Al Gore documentary "An Inconvenient Truth") occasionally feels choppy, although both elements improve as the film progresses.

Carly Schroeder is generally fine playing the fictionalized version of Shue at a younger age, but both her real-life counterpart as well as Dermot Mulroney are guilty of some of that occasionally rough acting playing her parents. Christopher Shand is present as the obligatory high school jerk, Joshua Caras does the supportive friend bit, and John Doman plays the coach initially reluctant to allow Grace to try out for the team. All are okay, but none particularly stands out in their roles.

Following the sports film playbook to a T, the pic might have seemed better if so many other similar films hadn't already preceded it, but with the likes of "Bend It Like Beckham" also on the cinematic playing field, this one sort of disappears into the crowd, much like my high school soccer career. "Gracie" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed May 1, 2007 / Posted June 1, 2007

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