The Mighty Macs
by Tony Medley
Run time 98
OK for children.
Sports films are
chancy. In the olden days of Hollywood the actors were so unathletic
that they were often laughable (The Babe Ruth Story, 1948, etc.).
Worse, they were factually unreliable. Actually the best sports films
were comedies like It Happens Every Spring (1949) starring Ray
Milland and Paul Douglas, Angels in the Outfield (1951) starring
Douglas, and Rhubarb (1951) starring Milland (Douglas had an
uncredited role in Rhubarb, too).
have improved, however, starting with Hoosiers (1986), and
reaching a zenith with 2004's Miracle which chose its cast based
on the actors' hockey playing skills instead of their acting ability.
Highlighted by terrific action scenes and wonderful cinematography, the
result was an entertaining, believable film.
Tim Chambers had his work cut out for him in telling the
remarkable story of the 1971-72 Immaculata College women's basketball
team. One problem is whether or not enough people will be interested in
a women's college basketball team to go to the film. Another was whether
he could find actresses who could act and also look like they knew how
to play basketball. Without that combination, the film would be a
disaster. Chambers used the same method to cast the film that was used
for Miracle, saying, "I would not allow any of the actresses to
read for roles until I saw them play basketball. My philosophy was
simple - if the audience couldn't buy-in to their athletic talent, they
would never buy-in to the story."
In addition to
knowing their way around the court, they had to look like they did in
the early '70s. Chambers acknowledges that the physiques of female
athletes has undergone an enormous change in 40 years. The result was a
cast of athletic young women, all of whom are making their feature film
debuts, and can act as well as they play basketball.
He then made an
inspired choice by choosing Chuck Cohen as his Director of Photography.
While Cohen filmed many successful sports movies including Jerry
Maguire (1996), Varsity Blues (1999), and Any Given
Sunday (1999), he made his chops as an NFL Films cameraman. Anybody
who has ever watched NFL Films knows that the guys they have filming the
games are geniuses in capturing brilliant angles. You can't watch any of
the NFL Films' productions without marveling "How in the world did they
get that angle without knowing in advance what would happen and who
would be where?"
Cathy Rush (Carla
Gugino) takes what is basically a volunteer job at small Immaculata
College to coach its basketball team. She meets Mother St. John (Ellen
Burstyn), who is less than enthusiastic, as the school is near
bankruptcy and the women's basketball team is the last thing on her
mind. That's the least of Cathy's worries, however, as the school's gym
has burned down and they don't have any uniforms and only a few players.
Worse, her husband, Ed Rush (David Boreanaz), an NBA referee, is even
less enthusiastic than Mother St. John. About the only person on her
side is a young novice, Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton), who has problems
of her own, worrying about the quality of her vocation.
What follows is a
tremendously heart-warming story of someone facing enormous odds but
persevering. The acting and story are so good it brought tears to my
eyes as these young women fight the odds. Gugino carries the film but
the performances of the entire cast shine.
The way Cohen
sets up his game shots like he did when he worked for NFL Films, and his
cinematography, especially of the game action, give the film the
verisimilitude it needs to allow the viewer to believe that these short
young women could actually play and outscore bigger and stronger
Maybe a sequel
should be made about Tim Chambers' fight to get this film made and
distributed. He, too, faced enormous odds and a less than enthusiastic
reception from film companies and distributors. Disdaining the
opportunity to have it go straight to video to recoup the costs, like
the women whose story he filmed he risked it all and went for the prize,
and the film is opening in more than 1,000 theaters nationwide, an
almost unprecedented rollout for a small, independent film, a victory
almost as amazing as the story he tells.
This isn't a basketball film. It's a film about fighting the odds
and hanging in there.
October 17, 2011