Catholic College Basketball Movie Is Hardly Immaculate

By Jeremy Grossman

An all-girls’ Catholic college in the early ‘70s is not the typical setting for a sports drama, which is why “The Mighty Macs” has a little something extra going for it. Unfortunately, the movie never realizes its full potential, and becomes another clichéd “little team that could” story.

Based on a true story, “The Mighty Macs” stars Carla Gugino as Cathy Rush, the new women’s basketball coach at Immaculata College. Cathy is full of hopes and dreams and optimism, even if the girls on the basketball team aren’t. They’re lacking in passion and they don’t believe in themselves because, well, this is a sports drama.

Alongside Gugino is David Boreanaz filling the role of the husband that “just doesn’t get it” and Marley Shelton as a nun who finds herself drawn into the thrill of basketball. The most interesting character, and by all means the best part of the movie, is Mother St. John, the mother superior played by Ellen Burstyn.

In Burstyn’s character lies the one piece of true originality in the film. She plays the character in every underdog story who exists for no other reason than to cause trouble for our protagonists. The character’s saving grace is that Burstyn refuses to abide by the stereotype. We see that she really wants the basketball team to succeed, but can’t find it in herself to be happy, and neither can we find it in ourselves to dismiss her as simply the villain of the piece. She’s a woman who has lost her faith but desperately wants to rediscover it.

It’s the “faith in God” and “faith in yourself” metaphor that gives strength to “The Mighty Macs”. When the film touches on this comparison, it does it well. Director Tim Chambers never lets his film get preachy, touching upon the religious themes in an artistic rather than condescending manner. However, these bright points are counterbalanced by the same old story we’ve seen in so many sports films before. The girls on the basketball team are terribly uninteresting, with about three of them getting a scene of their own. Perhaps the filmmakers thought that if a character can have one “big” scene, then that excuses any lack of character development in the rest of the film. It doesn’t.

Also, while Gugino brings a lot of strength to her role as basketball coach Cathy, her character is lacking in strength as a protagonist. We have a hard time understanding her on an emotional level, and only really get to know her as a committed basketball coach. Maybe the film is only concerned with the fact that Cathy cares about her job, but that’s not enough for an audience who might want to care about her as a person.

“The Mighty Macs” is a very good-natured film, and it has its smile-provoking moments. While it is not a weak movie, nor is it a particularly strong one, and it is easy to suspect that it could have been stronger had it made a little more effort to find faith in itself.

Jeremy is a staff writer. Contact him at film@nyunews.com.

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