When it rains, baseball players go to the locker rooms and put on their street clothes, but soccer players stay on the field, according to father/coach Bryan Bowen (Dermot Mulroney). So we get not one but two high-tension moments as drenching rain comes down on a soccer team – and on one particular soccer player — with just once chance to make the goal that will win the big, big game.
This film has a lot of the conventional high and low points of sports films, including a “Win one for the Gipper” goal of fulfilling the dream of a player who died. But the strong family ties on screen and behind the camera and some gritty authenticity of place and feeling remind us how what could have been cliché can have the power of archetype.
Gracie Bowen (“Mean Creek’s” Carly Schroeder) is the only girl in a soccer-mad blue-collar family in New Jersey. Her younger brothers tease her without mercy, but her older brother Johnny, a star athlete, always encourages her. When he is killed in an accident, she decides to make his dream of beating the rival team come true – by taking his place on the team. The boys’ team.
Bryan refuses to help her. The coach will not let her try out. For a while, Gracie gives up, trying to obliterate her sense of loss with by drowning her pain in broken rules and risky behavior. Her parents understand this is a cry for help and attention. They agree to support her. Before she can take on the rivals in the big game, she has to take on the coach, the school board, the boys on the team, and her own fears.
This was a labor of love for co-writer/director Davis Guggenheim (An Inconvenient Truth) and his wife Elisabeth Shue (Adventures in Babysitting), who plays Gracie’s mother. The story was co-written by Shue’s brother Andrew (who plays the assistant coach), inspired by Elisabeth’s experiences as a soccer player following the death of her brother, and it was filmed on location in the town and at the school where it all happened. The story may be predictable, but it unfolds as though every one on screen and behind the camera is telling it for the first time. I could not help wishing that it had cut out about 10 minutes of inappropriate language and material to merit a PG, but I could not help appreciating its heart, commitment, and moments of specificity and wanting that last goal just as much as Gracie did.
Parents should know that this movie has about five minutes of strong and homophobic language (s-word, bastard, boobs, lesbo), teen smoking and drinking, underage driving without a license, and some risky sexual situations. A strength of the movie is its portrayal of determined female characters and their fight for equal treatment.
Families who see this movie should talk about what has – and has not – changed in sports for girls and women. They should also talk about how much it mattered to the people in this movie to have – or not have — the support of their family members. Why is it so hard for siblings to behave like Johnny? They should also talk about the different ways the family members react to Johnny’s death, some in ways that may appear to be unfeeling.