Reviewed by

Christopher Armstead

I enjoy women’s basketball, not as much as men’s basketball because it’s just not as fast paced or as exciting as the men’s game, as most of us know already, but the women’s game for all intents and purposes is a purer form of the game. What makes the women’s game a purer form of basketball, it has been said, is because they play below the rim which places a greater emphasis on the fundamentals of the game. This movie ‘Mighty Macs’ which details the rise of the Immaculata College women’s basketball team and their hall-of-fame coach Cathy Rush, is a sports movie similar to many of the sports movies that we’ve seen before, a down on their luck team, every ones rises up, troubles along the way, last shot at the end. This one just adds in a healthy dose of girlpower into the mix. But while ‘The Mighty Macs’ is a typical sports movie, probably to a fault, Director Tim Chambers movie does a very good job of illustrating what I believe makes women’s basketball unique.

The year is 1971. Nixon, Vietnam, and girls are still going to school to get the MRS degree. Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino) isn’t trying to hear any of that. Cathy is married already to NBA official Ed Rush (David Boreanaz)… and anybody who watched a lot of basketball in the eighties is probably very familiar with the name Ed T. Rush… but before she starts a family and stuff, which Ed desperately wants, she wants to give this coaching thing a go. And as the only applicant for the open coaching position at the Immaculata College for women, a school which looks like it might be shutting down the next year anyway, much to the dismay of the Mother Superior St. John (Ellen Burstyn), but at least The Mighty Macs of Pennsylvania have a brand new coach.

The first thing a coach needs is some players, like Trish (Katie Hayek), the deadly shooting guard who is dirt poor or Lizanne (Kim Blair), the lockdown defender who can’t wait to marry Bobby or Billy or whatever his name was. I’m thinking that’s not going to happen, because she wants it so bad, and Coach Rush will impart a critical lesson our way when this thing she wants so badly doesn’t happen for her. I’d tell you more about the players on this team but to this movies detriment, the players themselves weren’t a focus. The team was, but not so much the players on the team. Coach Rush could also use an assistant, and that introduces us Sister Sunday (Mary Shelton)

who through one fundamentally perfect chest bounce pass let us know that she knows a little something about the game. Plus she’s questioning her commitment to her vows which is why the Good Lord sent basketball her way to fortify her faith. Basketball will do that to you, you know?

You know the routine. The team is rag tag, players quit, the husband doesn’t understand, the faculty isn’t supportive, the coach is too difficult, and they lose games badly. Guess what? The team rallies around each other, the coach sees the error of her harsh ways, the husband begins to understand, the faculty becomes invigorated and the team begins to win games impressively. Eventually, the young women who are playing in hand me down plaid dresses will have to battle with the best the nation has to offer in the NCAA tournament, if they called it that back then, and if you think it’s going to come down to a last second shot against an undefeatable opponent, then the chances are you’ve seen a sports movie or two in your day. 

I enjoyed ‘The Mighty Macs’, but then to be honest with you, I enjoy almost all sports movies in the same way that there are people out there that enjoy almost all Romantic Comedies or all Zombie pictures. A sports movie would have to be something awful for me not to get some enjoyment out of it, and thankfully ‘The Mighty Macs’ isn’t that movie… but we do recognize that Tim Chambers movie does have its issues.

The film does not stray outside the lines as far as the Sports Movie goes, following Sports Movie convention to a predictable tee, but this is expected. It’s the dramatic aspects of this particular sports film and the development of the characters where this movie falls short, as opposed to the basketball elements where it excelled. Almost as if director Tim Chambers understands the game of basketball far better than he understands subtle aspects of movie drama. Carla Gugino is a wonderful actress and she does sell us on the dedication and harsh coaching style of the character she’s playing, which is more impressive because I bet you Ms. Gugino probably hasn’t shot a basketball more than five or six times in her life. That’s just a guess on my part. But the relationship she had with her husband was woefully underdeveloped, at best, the players on the team where cardboard cutouts of real people… the nuns at the school were actually presented with more personality than the players on the team… and the majority of the plot points in this movie felt wedged into this movie simply because they had to be there because they are always there in a movie like this.

But as we mentioned before, the basketball elements are well executed, I do believe that the filmmakers really captured the essence of the women’s game, the actresses completely sold me on their ability to play the game and if you do a little bit or research, the majority of the things that were presented in this movie are completely true in the way they unfolded. Not the last second shot to win the championship, but then what kind of sports movie ends with a solid, well played, secure victory? Not one I’d want to see.

‘The Mighty Macs’ is a family friendly movie that should not offend, but it offers no surprises, and it does travel heavily over some well worn roads. But we enjoyed it nonetheless, even though most of us have seen this story a number of times before.

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