A determined new coach takes on an underdog sports team, teaches them to work together to overcome adversity, and eventually leads the team to rise from obscurity to the championship.
No, I said Mighty Macs. Macs, not Ducks.
Shelved for two years and finally seeing its release this weekend, The Mighty Macs is based on the true story of the 1971/72 Immaculata College women’s basketball team. Former basketball player Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino) is hired as the new coach of the team with all odds stacked against her. No gym (it burned down), no money (the school is in financial trouble and Cathy is only paid $450.00 for the season), outdated uniforms straight out of the 1920’s, and a bunch of scrappy girls who don’t believe in themselves. But Cathy is plucky and motivated to overcome all these things, even it if causes a rift in her new marriage.
The film is set in the early 70’s and it actually looks the early 70’s. The cinematography, costume design, and hair and makeup are all spot-on and authentically convey the feel of the era. The basketball scenes are expertly filmed as well and put the viewer right into the action on the court.
Carla Gugino (she’ll always be Becca from Son-In-Law to me) is responsible for carrying the bulk of the film and she does an exceptional job as Cathy Rush. Marley Shelton, as her assistant coach Sister Sunday, also shines and earns most of the biggest laughs in the movie. The two have a nice chemistry and share some great scenes together. Ellen Burstyn, as Mother Superior, does what she can with a pretty thankless role, as does David Boreanaz in the not-so-supportive-but-then-ultra-supportive husband role.
It’s also refreshing to see a non-animated G-rated movie in 2011. The old-fashioned approach is sweet and charming and works with this type of story.
As you may have figured, it’s all of these things. Multiplied by 1000.
Writer/director Tim Chambers plays it very safe, maybe too safe at times. Any conflict is quickly and easily resolved sitcom-style. In fact, one scene gave me deja vu to an episode of Full House. (“List all the good things about yourself,” said Aunt Becky to recently-dumped DJ.)
Even without knowing the real-life outcome of the team, there’s never any feeling of fear or doubt as to whether or not they’re going to win.
The film also relies a little too heavily on the musical score to force out emotion (Cry NOW or you’re a heartless asshole!) rather than trusting the capable actors.
For a film about an underdog sports team, we don’t really ever get to know the underdog sports team.
A few hours after viewing, I tried to recall the members. I was able to come up with two (sorry drawing a blank on the names): the one with the boyfriend and the one that didn’t have nice clothes to wear for the picture in the paper (Makeover!!!). That’s all I got. And it’s too bad, because at the end of the movie we learn about all the remarkable things these girls went on to do post-college. It would have been more a payoff if we had been given a chance to learn a little more about their back-stories. Instead the girls come off as one-dimensional background fillers, a couple lucky ones (as I mentioned) two-dimensionally.
To raise money to fund their trip to the Regional Championship, the team goes door-to-door selling hand lotion.
You read that correctly: young Catholic girls selling lotion. The jokes write themselves.
(See?! I didn’t even write that! I got up to get a beer and when I came back, it was on the screen!)
While I might have let this one fly since the film is based on a true story and that may have really happened, after conducting a bit of research (Google) I learned the girls actually went door-to-door selling toothbrushes, not lotion. So why the weird switch? To include a scene of a young girl slathering lotion on some weird old dude’s grubby feet of course. Just part of the G-rated fun!
Though predictable, cliched, and corny, The Mighty Macs means well and has undeniable heart. It’s a nice, harmless story of underdog triumph that the whole family can watch together and maybe even learn a few lessons from. The performances elevate it above a made-for-television movie and there’s that familiar charm that comes with these against-all-odds sports dramas. You can’t help but feel good at the end, even if you forget about it a few hours later. If not for the dumb hand-lotion thing, this would have been a solid three beer flick. Worth checking out on cable.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever you see a “We will be #1” button.
Take a Drink: whenever anyone wears plaid
Take a Drink: whenever the music swells to try to make you cry
Take a Drink: whenever someone says the word “habit” (take two if it’s used as a pun)
Take a Drink: when you rack your brain trying to match the characters to the real people when they are mentioned in the “Where are they now” epilogue