Friday, September 21, 2007

Gracie: You Wish I Was Born a Boy, Don't You?

Gracie (David Guggenheim, 2007) played in theatres in Atlanta, GA for less than a month. I was going to watch it then but didn’t get around to it.

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Well, it’s now available to rent at Blockbuster and to buy at your favorite neighborhood mega-entertainment store or online retailer.
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Loosely drawn from the childhoods of actors Andrew Shue and Elizabeth Shue, Gracie combines the models of sports inspirational and coming-of-age to tell the story of a young girl (Carly Schroeder) who finds a way to convince “society” to let her do what she loves the most in the whole world: play futbol.

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Andrew Shue explains in the making-of featurette that for the past ten years, he has wanted to make an underdog movie about futbol. I believe the director adds that the film was originally supposed to focus on a father-son relationship but eventually became one about a father and a daughter. Having just lost their oldest son (who was a naturally gifted futbol player) to a collision with a drunk driver, Lindsay (Elizabeth Shue) and Bryan Bowen (Dermot Mulroney) try the best that they can to raise the rest of their kids: Mike (Hunter Schroeder), Daniel (Trevor Heins), and Gracie.

As the film reveals, this endeavor consists primarily of Gracie wanting her father to coach and train her so that she can play futbol for the varsity boys’ team in the next school year and help them defeat Kingston, the school that her brother Johnny (Jesse Lee Soffer) played against in the beginning of the film–the last game he would ever play. Gracie’s dad isn’t very keen on the idea. Initially, his less than lukewarm support is due to the gender excuse–girls aren’t tough enough, girls shouldn’t have to risk injury. Over time, however, the hesitation is fueled by his own doubt in her ability and belief in herself. Thematically speaking (within the sports-inspirational framework), Gracie aims to express its protagonist’s psychological journey from sulking teenager to futbol player.

Overall, despite the metaphorical purpose futbol serves (sports provide structure and an outlet for frustration), Guggenheim’s film is less of a sports film and more of a coming-of-age film. You could take the futbol out and replace it with singing, painting, writing, musical instrument-playing, horseback riding, or even chess, and whatever that activity might be would still function in the same way narratively and thematically.

After all, there are only two futbol games (one at the beginning and one at the end), two proper practices (tryouts for the varsity team and a drill session for the junior varsity team), and half a dozen or so sequences where Gracie practices by herself, with her dad, or with other characters (with or without the presence of a ball). Moreover, at least forty-five minutes of the ninety-five minute-long film address Gracie’s inner struggles. The person that meant the most to her is dead, her own father might as well wish that she was born a guy, and social pressures of being an alluring teenage girl just get in the way of a meaningful existence, which may not even be attainable anymore.

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The futbol element, though, is necessary because the film’s 1978 setting compels the inclusion of certain culturally revolutionizing events and mentalities. Gracie might not enunciate explicitly the words “women’s liberation,” there are discussions, dialogue pieces that confront the issue of whether or not a female is physically and mentally capable of participating in rough (boy) sports. More importantly, though, is the spotlight on Title IX. On the one hand, its place within the narrative and the performance of the particular scene comes off as slightly “convenient” or, if I felt like being mean, a wee bit corny. On the other hand, its appearance in the film makes absolute sense and is essential. I also have to point out that she spends the night in her brother's room (the second night after she and her family learn of his death), and she wakes up determined to play futbol. I'm very glad the director didn't feel the need to have Gracie cut her hair short.

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The futbol also allows Gracie to sort out a conflict with one of the varsity players in a considerably satisfying way. It might be indirect payback, but it’s dual-layered. I don’t want to say more about it–you should just watch the film.

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All right, now on to the aesthetics of filmed futbol. Some of these thoughts are from one of my LJ entries. I haven’t watched much televised futbol, but I did watch a couple of the World Cup games from June 2006, including the match between South Korea and France. As the game progressed, I started thinking about its aesthetic and functional differences with other team sports. I tend to get bored with futbol, which it doesnt make sense because I like hockey. As I’ve probably articulated before, hockey and futbol are basically the same game–they just have different uniforms and gear.

Compared to football, futbol is more fast-paced. The ball is constantly moving, but so few goals are ever scored, and it commonly takes a long time for numbers to go on the score board. After fifteen minutes of game-play, a football team could get 21 points (three touchdowns and one field goal), while a futbol team might scored 1 point (one goal). With football, although the action of the game-play lasts a few seconds to a couple minutes, and repeats for four quarters, something about it is easier for me to enjoy.

Futbol doesn’t excite me as much or make me happy because it’s ideologically, it’s more blatantly maximum effort, minimum results. The players are running back and forth, blocking and kicking…and after thirty minutes of game-play, there may not have been any goals scored. I realize that two quarters of football can go by without anyone making a touchdown or a field goal; and even if no interceptions or fifty yard+ drives are made, the aesthetics of the game-play still make me smile. Should I thank the TV network’s production staff for that feeling?

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Advertizers must prefer football because there are more places for commercials. ^0^

When I was watching the South Korea vs. France game, I observed that most of the game-play was filmed from a high-angle, long shot perspective, probably because any other angle or shot scale would undermine the speed at which the players were running. Televised instant slow-motion replays were incorporated less frequently. When they were employed so that the commentator could discuss the previous sequence (whether or not a goal was made or if a deflected ball should be counted as a goal given where it was deflected), the instant replay footage itself wasn’t necessarily so great because the cameramen didn’t capture it from an optimal angle.

The two games in Gracie were filmed on a field that didn’t have any line markings aside from the boundaries of the playing stage itself and the area in front of the goal posts/nets. I don’t recall there being any high–angle points-of-view other than a couple of crane shots from behind and over the goal nets. Theoretically, then, it’s possible or arguable that editing a futbol sequence is less headache-inducing than a football sequence, assuming that each editor has sufficient, equal amounts of coverage (wider shots where the entire field is visible, medium shots of players’ in motion, close-ups of feet, hands, and faces). Match-on-action cuts would be just as time-consuming and would require near obsessive-compulsive attention to detail, but as far as ordering a series of game-play, the futbol movie editor has got to be much less stressed than the football movie editor.

I won’t talk any more about the film’s plot trajectory, because I want you to see it for yourself, but I do want to present the following:

Lessons That Gracie Teaches:

1. Don’t ever discourage your daughter (or sister or girlfriend or niece) from participating in traditionally male athletic activities for fun or for sport. If she wants to try out for a school or the local town/county/state team, let her and support her. Otherwise, she could adopt the ways of the stereotypical, anti-authority male–and that’s no picnic. Worry about the intersection of athlete-and-trouble-maker when/if it happens.

2. Don’t ever tell a female she can’t do something just because she isn’t male. You’ve seen the films where a male is told he isn’t smart/fast/strong enough to accomplish something and what does he do? He does just about everything he can do prove his critics wrong. Imagine what a female who gives a flying frappuccino would do if she were told that it is solely her sex and gender that makes her inadequate. I wouldn’t want to be the one to have doubted her.

3. Expectations are placed equally on young men and women to behave a certain way (with each other or with society) and to develop interests in particular activities. As Lindsay Bowen tells Gracie near the end of the film, after having experienced another setback, something along the lines of “you can limit yourself if you want to, but don’t let other people do it for you.” On the flip side, don’t feel obliged to be like everyone else or what they assume you’ll be. Be what you want to be… long as no laws are broken in the process.

Doesn’t she almost look like a field goal kicker for a football team? The back cover of the DVD offers an even more convincing pose.
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Notice how Gracie is sitting in the middle of the cheerleaders and the other futbol players.
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Gracie rated PG-13 for brief sexual content.

The stunts crew consists of Jared Burke, Blaise Corrigan, Stephen Mann, and Anthony Vincent.

Dan Metcalfe is the futbol coordinator. Andrew Shue and Elizabeth Shue both grew up playing soccer, so they undoubtedly contribued to the futbol sequences.

For more information on Title IX, please visit its official site here.

pix cred: yahoo movies &

Originally posted at Sitting Pugs.

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