Brick, by David Bax
When a movie as corny and fake feel-good as The Mighty Macscomes around, the first thing I wonder is who paid for it and what are they trying to sell me? In this case, it would appear that the film is a recruitment video for Pennsylvania’s Immaculata University.
The story takes place back in 1971/72, when it was still an all-girls school and it was called Immaculata College. Cathy Rush, former college basketball player, current wife to an NBA referee and secretly not Catholic, signs on to coach the school’s team.
What follows is all rather ridiculous. To believe the film’s account of this true story, there’s only one girl on the team who can actually play to begin with and Rush manages to not only teach them the rules of basketball but transform them in a little over a month into a powerhouse organization.
Rush is played by Carla Gugino, a very talented and usually reliable actor who is simply not good here. I doubt she’s to blame, though, because neither is anyone else. Other professionals, such as Marley Shelton, David Boreanaz and the great Ellen Burstyn, all deliver performances that make me wonder if they were ever allowed a second take.
In fact, this approach seems to have been applied to all aspects of the film, from the screenplay to the occasionally haphazard camera work. One very much gets the impression that this film was made quickly. Budget constraints forcing a filmmaker to work fast is not a new concept. But perhaps it fit director Tim Chamber’s taste. Also serving as the film’s screenwriter, he has an almost Zen lack of intellectual curiosity about the events and the characters. The dialog does not reveal hidden truths beneath its words. There is nothing at all beneath the words. Characters say what they mean and what they feel. The depictions of basketball and Catholicism are equally superficial. This story could easily be about ice hockey at a Baptist school.
All that aside, Chambers does know what he’s doing, in the way that the best hacks do. Even after you’re done rolling your eyes at all the stock coaching advice that sounds good but doesn’t really make sense (You really want these girls to “forget everything they know” about basketball, coach? They’re about 20 years old and your first game is, like, tomorrow.), an underdog story is innately pleasing to watch. Chambers hits all the necessary points. Adversity among the teammates is replaced by adversity from the school’s officials, which is replaced – once all the Macs are united – by adversity from the big, bad rival school.
That enemy team is, of course, the one that Rush played for, allowing her to overcome some inner strife that has only been vaguely gestured toward in the course of the story. Chambers really comes into his own in terms of lazy crassness in the casting of the rival coach, a woman who is more or less the exact physical opposite of Carla Gugino.
You’ll be forgiven if you have to dry a few tears at the end of The Mighty Macs. After all, anyone can make a halfway decent meal if they follow the directions closely enough. Yet you likely won’t find yourself itching to enroll at Immaculata. If it weren’t referenced in the title, you might even forget the name of the school by the time you get home, so thoroughly ephemeral and inconsequential is this movie.