[Screen It]


(2011) (Carla Gugino, Marley Shelton) (G)

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Drama: A liberated woman of the early 1970s overcomes long odds and various obstacles as she becomes the coach at an all-girls Catholic college and tries to rebuild and take the basketball team to the national championship.
It's 1971 and Cathy Rush (CARLA GUGINO) wants to be something more than just the stay at home wife and future mother to the children of her NBA ref husband, Ed (DAVID BOREANAZ). Accordingly, she applies for and gets the head coach position of the women's basketball team at Immaculata College, mainly because she's the only applicant for the job. Run by Mother St. John (ELLEN BURSTYN) and other nuns, the college is in such financial straits that the school's board is considering selling it to developers for the land, and there's no money to replace the gym that burned down or update the girl's game outfits.

Learning that one of the nuns in training -- Sister Sunday (MARLEY SHELTON), who's questioning her religious oath -- has a basketball background, Cathy enlists her as her assistant coach. The two then set out to mold the girls, including Mary (LAUREN BITTNER), Lizanne (KIM BLAIR), Trish (KATIE HAYEK), Colleen (KATE NOWLIN) and Rosemary (MARGARET ANNE FLORENCE), into a team rather than a set of individuals.

With little support from anyone else and nearly no money to finance their road trips and more, Cathy does what she can to convince herself, her husband, Sister Sunday and everyone else at the college that what they're doing is something remarkable. As the team finally starts to win its games, they then strive to make it all of the way to and through the national championship.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
I've always been a fan of the old fact is stranger than fiction truth. Take, for instance, the story of a woman ahead of her time who overcomes a variety of obstacles and long odds to turn around a nearly nonexistent woman's college basketball program and take them to the national championship where the majority of their fans are nuns, in full habit attire, who run the school.

Of course, for anyone familiar with the real life tale of the Mighty Macs of Immaculata College back in 1971 and coach Cathy Rush who led them to national prominence in a fledgling women's sport, nothing about that seems strange. And none of it is. I was actually referring to the fact that a G-rated film about the woman and those past events is getting a national theatrical release. After all, the movie industry seems to be highly adverse to any films of that rating that aren't animated or at least targeted at very young kids, or are highly specialized documentaries.

Granted, that rarity reportedly almost never occurred as the story took a long time to get the filmmaking green light, and once it was finally completed, it had a devil of a time finding someone to finance its release in more than a handful of theaters. If anything, it's surprising this didn't suffer the fate of going straight to video as it simply doesn't have the look of a film that will appeal to the audiences that Hollywood seems to favor courting.

Had that occurred, viewers likely would have missed the opportunity of catching this little flick that's a decent offering and slight variation of the usual period sports drama. After all, we've seen countless flicks featuring male coaches showing up and motivating collegiate or professional teams to come together, overcome problems and succeed at whatever their sports calling might be. For example, think of "Hoosiers" and Gene Hackman's character doing just that.

In "The Mighty Macs," Carla Gugino takes over that part in the role of real-life coach Cathy Rush who arrived at Immaculata in the 1970s to find a team in great disarray. In full disclosure, I had never heard of this story, so I can't attest to what's the truth and what, if anything, has been created or at least modified in order to flesh out and dramatize the tale to some greater extent.

The result is an offering that's suitable for most of the entire family (read our parental review for two slightly sexually related elements that probably could have earned a PG rating) and ends up fairly entertaining despite traveling down a well-trodden, familiar and predictable path forged by other sports dramas before it.

Gugino is good in the lead as the woman who simply wants to do something beyond being a wife and future mother to the kids of her NBA ref husband (David Boreanaz whose only real purpose in the film is to raise objections to her dream before taking the 180 route and fully supporting her at the end). The fact that she's an unintentional leader in the women's liberation movement is smartly underplayed by writer/director Tim Chambers, although some viewers and critics may think the film misses the boat by not playing that up.

Marley Shelton plays a young nun who's questioning her oath of religious service and ends up as the assistant coach. Her PG-related activities demonstrate her lack of full commitment, but the filmmakers don't fully commit to her either as her character is only partially fleshed out and remains unnamed (the press kit lists her as Sister Sunday).

But she fares better than the girls playing for them, with only a few (such as Kim Blair as a girl looking forward to marrying her boyfriend, and Katie Hayek as a poor girl) getting slight story attention. That also holds true for most of the nuns save for the one played by veteran actress Ellen Burstyn who spends most of the film rightly concerned about the school likely being sold to developers. The other sisters and female athletes are just present to fill out the rest of their respective squads, if you will.

Even so and despite not treading any new overall plot mechanics, the film works in its underdog story (although it surprisingly never brings up the obvious David vs. Goliath comparison) and actually emotionally engaged this hardened critic on more than one occasion. "The Mighty Macs" might not be the champion of sports dramas, but it's entertaining and easy to watch. As a result, it rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed October 6, 2011 / Posted October 21, 2011

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