In '78 Title IX, the federal anti-discrimination act, had already been on the books a few years but hadn't yet sunk in meaningfully. The first big scene in "Gracie" distills the prejudices of the day (they're still around, of course) for us in sports-movie shorthand. We're in South Orange, N.J. A group of jeering high school punks wagers that young Gracie Bowen, sister of the local high school varsity soccer ace, cannot kick a Gatorade bottle off the hood of a car from a pretty good distance.
My God, how wrong can those boys be? In a close-up (the first of several for this beverage, which enjoys some mighty advantageous product placement in "Gracie") bammo, the bottle just zings into the air, a mere second after our heroine kicks the ball like a cham-peen.
"You can do anything," her proud brother tells her.
In this time and place, though, an athletic young woman in a traditionally role-modeled family gets no respect, little support and even less understanding if she wants to pursue her dreams of athletic glory. Back then the actress Elisabeth Shue found herself in a similar position. "Gracie" is a Shue family affair. She co-produced the picture and plays Gracie's mother; her husband, Davis Guggenheim ("An Inconvenient Truth"), directed, co-wrote the story and co-produced; Shue's brother, actor Andrew Shue, also worked on the story and plays a soccer coach.
Dermot Mulroney takes the largest male role, that of the driven ex-soccer star and patriarch of the onscreen family. From certain angles he looks like a Shue too.
Carly Schroeder is Grace, and she's good-intense but not actressy, a plausible jock and an avid listener, the most underrated of acting qualities. The script of "Gracie" is pretty routine stuff, it must be said, telegraphing Grace's setbacks like nobody's business. The second, for example, Grace's brother takes the time to tell her that she can do anything, you sense trouble for him and, by extension, trouble for her. (This, too, comes from the Shue family's real-life experience: Elisabeth lost one of her brothers to a freak accident when she was still quite young.) Similarly, the moment Mulroney's soccer-obsessed father declines to coach his daughter, she turns into a directionless rebel. There seems to be a transitional scene or two missing.
Director Guggenheim uses up his slow-mo and orchestral-strings quotient somewhere around reel three, a common sports film problem. But "Gracie" does hold you, in its oversimplified and sentimental way, and it deals with a real issue in semi-real fashion--half-Hollywood, half-actual life, or something like it.