Hoop dreams that fall flat
By Stephanie Merry
Friday, Oct 21, 2011
Stop me if you've heard this one: A hapless, obscure underdog team overcomes countless disadvantages to become undisputed champions. There's a reason so many variations on this theme - from "Miracle" to "Dodgeball" - have emerged. It has the makings for an inspiring, nail-biting and feel-good couple of hours.
But "The Mighty Macs," one of the few female versions of the inspirational sports story, proves that basic outline alone is not enough. The true tale of a girls' basketball team at a small Catholic college in Pennsylvania is all platitudes and no personality.
This new addition to the genre is more "Sister Act" than "Hoosiers" thanks to its setting of the all-female, nun-run Immaculata College. The year is 1971, and Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino) has just gotten married but has no plans of becoming a housewife, despite the protestations of her NBA referee husband, played by David Boreanaz of "Bones" and "Buffy" fame. Rather than fill her days with baking pies and dusting, Rush takes a job as the basketball coach for the tiny school, which has no money, no gym, a single ball and a pile of outdated dresses as uniforms.
Adding to those initial obstacles, Cathy clashes with the unsmiling Mother Superior (Ellen Burstyn) and a ragtag bunch of players, who are more interested in getting married and appearing ladylike than perfecting their jump shots. In stereotypical fashion, Cathy initially repels everyone with her unorthodox methods. She starts practice at 7 a.m., arranges scrimmages against boys and forces the girls to run drills late at night in the freezing cold in a drainage pipe. But just when the odds begin to seem insurmountable, a crew of nuns comes to Cathy's aid, including the religiously conflicted young Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton), who volunteers to be the assistant coach.
On paper, the accomplishments of this team are spectacular, but it's hard to get past the feeling that writer-director Tim Chambers was checking off items on a list titled Elements of a Cinderella Story. Cathy fits the archetype, yet she doesn't feel like a complete person. She speaks almost exclusively in inspirational one-liners, including "Short, tall, fast or small, it's our voice that makes us one," and "Dreams are for everybody." She might as well be a talking toy that spouts off trite proverbs.
The players feel just as superficially drawn. And while it's amusing at first to see nuns cheering from the stands to "watch the pick and roll," that comedic element wears thin after a while.
It all amounts to a missed opportunity considering how many female athletes and sports fans would probably flock to the first film that targets their demographic since "A League of Their Own" nearly 20 years ago. The people behind "The Mighty Macs" could learn a lot from that film, especially that following formula is fine, as long as you don't skimp on the details that complete the portrait.
Contains nothing objectionable.