Nearly 20 minutes into Gracie (rated PG-13 for sporadic harsh language and sexual situations), one question comes to mind: When was soccer ever this big in America? For Gracie Bowen (16-year-old Carly Schroeder) soccer is huge.
With a sort of intensity one might expect for Friday night high-school football in Texas, the Davis Guggenheim film portrays 1978 New Jersey as a soccer-crazed place where thousands-and even marching bands-show up for high-school matches. In that context it makes sense that Gracie's family might become obsessed with the local team. Her older brother, Johnny, is the team captain. Her father (Dermot Mulroney) trains Johnny and two younger brothers to be soccer stars, and Gracie feels left out.
But then Johnny dies, and the plot picks up the pace. The secretly skilled Gracie announces she wants to join the varsity soccer team both to memorialize her brother and to help avenge the team's sole loss the previous year. It will take a legal battle and an appeal to Title IX to win her a spot on the team-not to mention a tryout from the sexist coach. See where this is going?
Films as predictable as Gracie need flawless execution to come off well, and Gracie's filmmakers don't seem fully up to the task. Some things they do well: The combination of '70s decor, retro lighting, and classic rock soundtrack screams Jersey like Bruce Springsteen sends postcards from Asbury Park. But Gracie takes too long to hit its stride, meanders in its plot and, in the end, maintains a Disney level of predictability. All this hamstrings Gracie and probably makes the 2002 British film Bend It Like Beckham a better choice for the girl-playing-soccer genre.
The sad truth about Gracie is that by editing out much of the language and a few scenes depicting the teen's sexual rebellion, Gracie could have been one of those moralistic sports movies replayed endlessly on ABC Family.