Like every other underdog sports tale … but with women’s basketball
One of the upsides to Hollywood running out of original stories to tell is that they’re going to the past to find different versions of the same story they’ve been telling for decades. So plenty of stories that otherwise would’ve been left to scholars and historians have come out on the big screen; such is the case of tiny Immaculata College and Cathy Rush.
Rush is considered by many to be one of the greatest women’s basketball coaches to have ever blown a whistle. With a career winning percentage in the 90s in a profession where 50% can keep a coach employed for years, and three national titles in six years of coaching (as well as five appearances in the championship game), Rush coached the real life version of Hoosiers in women’s hoops. With a student base hovering around 500, Rush had plenty working against her but a lifetime in basketball and a husband (David Boreanaz) who was an NBA referee, gave her some positives in a struggle to build a program.
The film follows Rush (Carla Gugino) in that first year as she struggles to build a team that can actually compete amongst the powerhouse schools of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), the equivalent to the men’s NCAA that was eventually folded into that organization in the ’80s. As she goes through trials and problems, including from an employer that’s in dire straits financially and might not exist after the school year is over, Rush has to overcome all these obstacles and build a team out of what essentially amounts to the modern day equivalent of a Division III team against top tier talent.
The Mighty Macs is to women’s basketball what Hoosiers was for the men’s game, but with a lot less quality. Set in Pennsylvania in the early ‘70s about the underdog team that ends up winning it all in dramatic fashion, The Mighty Macs follows the usual formula for underdog sports film success. From the struggles early to find the team identity and the “new” ways of doing things from the new coach, this follows all the usual plot points up until the big dramatic finale where the team overcomes the odds and shows that they’re truly a championship team and such.
The only difference between this film and the myriad of underdog sports films with the same formula is the gender and time period; other than that, this is as cliché as you’ll find a story about overcoming the odds and such.
This is about as cookie cutter a film as it gets in terms of plot and structure; it hits all the right notes and hits all the right set pieces a film in the genre needs to work. And while it does work, and is successful enough to make it worthwhile, The Mighty Macs is missing that one final touch to take it from pedestrian to something better in every facet of the film. The acting is nearly universally solid but unremarkable; everyone in the film, from Rush on down, is a fairly stock character that just happens to have a real life counterpart.
Carla Gugino elevates what’s fairly pedestrian material with a solid genre performance. Gugino isn’t given much to work with, as the film is a bit light on character development outside of the usual cliché moments, but she does admirable work in the role. Rush was a complicated and intriguing figure and Gugino does her best to shed some light onto the part.
The Mighty Macs remains, then, a Coach Carter for women in telling a tried and true tale but not doing anything dazzling with it.
Director: Tim Chambers Notable Cast: Carla Gugino, Ellen Burstyn, Marley Shelton, David Boreanaz Writer(s): Tim Chambers, Whitney Springer and Anthony Gargano