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An uplifting ode to self-achievement, Gracie plays like Bend It Like Beckham meets Miracle--and not just for girls who want to play the game.


Gracie won't win awards for originality with its happy ending, "You can do it!" pep talks and intimidating bullies. But it is a fascinating semi-autobiographical look at actress Elisabeth Shue (of Leaving Las Vegas fame) and her family. Set in the late 1970s, teenager Gracie Bowen (Carly Schroeder), loosely based on Shue, lives a very middle-class existence in New Jersey with her four brothers, dad (Dermot Mulroney) and mom (Shue). There's even a soccer goal in the backyard, a sport Gracie has grown playing with her brothers. After her soccer-champion older brother dies in a tragic car accident, however, Gracie obsessively practices soccer in order to take his place on the high school varsity team. Even though the boys push her down and her dad and coaches tell her to quit, Gracie perseveres, eventually making the team, breaking down the gender barriers and kicking the heck out of the ball in the season's final game.


As Gracie, Schroeder (Mean Creek) displays purity and resolution, without any of the cutesy child actor affectations that can get in the way of a naturally inspired soccer player. The 16 year-old actress has a cryogenically frozen Pollyanna look, with blonde hair and crystal-blue eyes but gives a toned-down, minimalist performance. Shue channels her real-life mother, portraying a defeated woman, who settles for being a nurse despite wanting to be a surgeon. Like Schroeder, Shue doesn't try to do too much. Gracie, however, belongs as much to Mulroney (The Wedding Date) as it does to its young star. As the well-meaning dad, who is obsessed with soccer and his kids, Mulroney shows some volatile dramatic energy, especially after his son's death, which nearly destroys him. And look for brother Andrew Shue as a coach, his first acting role since his days on Melrose Place, who gave it all up to play professional soccer.


As a follow-up to his influential Oscar-winning documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, all eyes and expectations are on director Davis Guggenheim. Married to Elisabeth Shue, he co-wrote the Gracie story with Shue's brother, Andrew, and despite the emotional familial ties, it is an enterprising indie film. Guggenheim shows a flair for a different kind of storytelling – glossy fictional narrative, instead of non-fiction reporting – wringing emotion from a story limited in scope. The film's dialogue can be hackneyed to a fault, with groan-inducing lines like "life is like a s**t sandwich, and we all have to take a bite," but the charm works. Gracie has a great soundtrack, too, including the Bruce Springsteen tune, "Growin' Up." Inveterate soccer movie choreographer Dan Metcalfe (Kicking and Screaming) lends a hand to deliver exquisite sports realism, while nature shots, such as a cliff side or a close-up of a butterfly, are also flecked throughout with beautiful stillness--as though Inconvenient Truth's environment friendliness is breathing through Gracie.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 stars.