A rare sports movie that doesn’t use pea-brained, pedagogical individualism as a crutch (at least not until its final quarter hour), the uncommonly personal Gracie integrates convincingly murky family dynamics into its stock tale of an underdog athlete’s triumph. That it does so while also making high-school soccer look like the best-funded, most rabidly supported sport in America is all the more impressive.
Drawn from the early life of the Shue clan (Elisabeth, along with sib Andrew, is a costar and coproducer) and set, inevitably, in the ’70s, the film follows the titular adolescent heroine (Schroeder) as she copes with the loss of her beloved soccer-star older brother and strives to take his place on the all-male team. She’s opposed by the swaggering players, including a mulleted lothario (Shand), as well as her cynical, downcast dad (the excellent Mulroney) and mousy mom (Shue). Things proceed less than swimmingly, and it’s to the film’s credit that Gracie is presented as a gifted but slapdash player rather than some improbable savant. Director Davis Guggenheim’s signature combination of emotional restraint and earthy visuals also gives Gracie an unexpected grandeur, and nearly mitigates its climactic “put me in the game, coach” switcheroo.