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When the credits rolled for “Gracie” I couldn’t leave. I wanted to see every last second of this extraordinary film, which opened last week, about a fifteen-year-old girl, Gracie, who works through the loss of a favorite older brother by throwing her heart and soul into making the high school varsity soccer team–the male varsity soccer team.
It’s 1978 and Title IX is still in its nascent years. Girls may have had the right to play “girl sports” like field hockey, but the explosion of interest in girls’ soccer has yet to happen. “Gracie” is a tribute to that time, a time capsule of sorts about breaking down barriers–not just about whether or not a girl gets to play, but also about the stereotypes concerning girls and sports, like whether or not girls are tough enough to handle playing with the boys–and it comes complete with a 70’s style soundtrack and fashion sense.
Newcomer Carly Schroeder’s “Gracie” is riveting–she infuses such emotion, vulnerability, grit, and boundless determination into this girl that audiences won’t be able to take their eyes off of her and will find themselves cheering until the very last moment.
“Gracie” is inspired by the real life experiences of actress Elisabeth Shue and her soccer-crazed family. Shue had to fight for attention among her three brothers and her Dad by succeeding on the field. It was the loss of the beloved eldest brother that pushed the Elisabeth and brother Andrew to tell this story–it’s about his love of soccer and his endless encouragement of his baby sister’s athletics.
Though Carly Schroeder is truly the star of this film, Gracie can’t face her task alone. It’s not just the memory of her brother’s voice–whispering “You can do it, Gracie, I believe in you,” into her ear–that gets Gracie through the hard times. It’s the hard-won faith from dad (with a masterful performance by Dermot Mulroney) and mom (Elizabeth Shue, also wonderful in this role) that helps Gracie transform from insecure, grieving sister to empowered, confident, and skillful young woman ready to honor her brother’s memory. Both Mulroney and Shue infuse a moving honesty in their roles as parents.
When I saw “Gracie” there was only one other person in the theater. This is a terrible shame. “Gracie” is a must-see for girls (and it should be for guys too) this summer. It’s destined not only to become one of the great feel-good sports movies, but it will remind confident girls of this generation about their predecessors–girls (not just women) who broke barriers so that they can play sports today.

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