As far as inspirational stories go, The Mighty Macs is a slam dunk. It’s a good one about a female basketball team that plenty of Philadelphians have probably heard of over the years.
As far as movies go, though, this one doesn’t quite make it to the national championship.
As it stands now, The Mighty Macs doesn’t have enough oomph to appeal to a broad audience beyond those folks with ties to Immaculata University or women’s basketball. But this real-life tale with local roots does provide some inspirational moments that can teach today’s youngsters a lesson or two.
In my humble opinion, calling it The Cathy Rush Movie would be a more fitting title for The Mighty Macs. It’s 1971 and Rush (played by Carla Gugino), the wife of NBA ref Ed Rush (David Boreanaz, marginalized with a few forgettable lines), is not content to sit at home and pretend to be a happy housewife while her husband is on the road.
Rush’s passion is basketball, and she accepts a job to coach the basketball team at tiny, all-women Immaculata College (now a university) in the small Chester County town.
This ’71 team — which existed a year before the federal Title IX education amendment that particularly benefited women and school athletics — has no players. It also has no gym, no fans, not even gasp-worthy dresses for uniforms. So Rush pulls a team together, finds a place to practice and is aided by Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton), who agrees to be her assistant coach.
They lose big at first. But eventually, under Rush’s guidance, the Immaculata women rise from nobodies to national champions three years in a row.
None of the girls on the team had particularly compelling stories (one player is despondent for a bit after breaking up with her boyfriend … hey, get over it). In fact, I’m hard-pressed to even remember any of the athletes’ names, just the montage at the end that showed many of Rush’s players who went on to be successful coaches. Only Cathy Rush and Sister Sunday (a fictional character) made any sort of memorable impact in the film. An entertaining scene of the two being hit on at a bar made for one of the rare off-the-court scenes.
Another storyline focused on Immaculata’s money problems and how the school was on the brink of closure (big cliché). Mother St. John (Ellen Burstyn) is the “old guard” at the school who minimizes Rush’s attempts to breathe life into athletics at Immaculata.
The Mighty Macs has been on the shelf for a few years —it was filmed in 2007. Writer-director Tim Chambers fought hard to keep his family-friendly movie’s “G” rating. I see The Mighty Macs as the kind of movie that kids in school will watch when a sub fills in for the day, or it’ll be shown to youth basketball teams for motivation.
On the plus side, it’s fairly entertaining and tells a good story without feeling overly preachy, as many films with religious overtones tend to be. It’s also nice to see a female sports team celebrated; too many of these films give guys all the glory.
The pluses of this movie, though, are neutralized by some negatives. It’s clichéd. There is little suspense. And even the on-the-court scenes lack impact.
Every year around March Madness/Final Four time, we hear the Cinderella story of the team from some no-name school that overcame extreme obstacles to get to the big dance. Therefore, it’s not that the story is too good to be true.
These kinds of stories seem to happen at least once a year. And that’s precisely the problem. ••
Movie Grade: B-