I sent this review to the head of the Maximus Group (the Catholic marketing organization promoting the movie) asking for comments and any factual statements that needed correcting. The reply is in the comment section below this post.
Before starting this review which will be looking at the film from a Catholic perspective, I need to say that there are some positive things in the movie. The sisters are good people and their life (apart from one exception) is actually portrayed positively. The story is inspirational. If you want to read longer glowing reviews about the movie, they will surely be a dime a dozen so I'm not going to focus on those.
From a technical perspective the movie looks good. The campus is beautiful, the basketball games are exciting and the characters, the sisters especially, look natural and are portrayed positively.
A couple of non-content things that bothered me were that the inspirational scenes such as dropping all preconceived ideas in a collection basket and some of the other rah-rah moments with the girls seemed forced. I was reminded of Fireproof at times.
I also was disappointed that the movie was so focused on the coach and her assistant that the actual players all blurred together. One of the girls was poor and had to wear her brother's boots to school, one was planning on getting engaged and one was called Sharkey and scored most of the points. That's all I could remember about the girls and it left me without a real connection to the actual games. Maybe it's that the girls were “blended” characters instead of representing actual players that led to this lack of personality and empathy.
Now let's take a look at the actual content of the movie. First I'm going to ask you to set aside all the feel-good warm fuzzies about the story and focus on the actual message of the film. First, there is the uplifting “have trust in each other and have heart and you can do anything” theme. No problem here. Just about every underdog sports movie from Hoosiers to We are Marshall has this as a theme.
The problems lie in the other themes of the movie.
Back in 1940 Mortimer Adler wrote How to Read a Book. While it was specifically aimed at print, it can easily be adapted to film. Two of the rules are especially of interest when watching The Mighty Macs.
- Mark the most important sentences in the book and discover the propositions they contain.
- Locate or construct the basic arguments in the book by finding them in the connecting sentences.
Let's start with the opening scene which has Cathy Rush driving her red micro bus to the Macs campus to interview for the job as coach. She's listening to the news on the radio. The first story announced has to do with President Nixon and since he is never brought up again you can assume that it is used to set the time period of the film. The second story is about protests in Washington, D.C. for equal pay for women. This feminist goal is our opening introduction to the film and feminist themes run the length of the film so it is clear that, like the opening scene of Henry V, we are being provided with a lead in to the theme of the movie.
Once Cathy gets home and tells her husband that she got the job we find out that this was not something they had discussed and agreed upon but something that she had done in spite of whatever plans they had originally worked out for their marriage. She tells her husband that “I know you wanted to have a family but I really want to do this.” (I don't have the movie in front of me so that is a paraphrase) He is justifiably upset but the whole scene is set up to make us sympathetic to her and her dreams over her husband's outdated notions of having a family. Come on! She has dreams to live!
Just in case you didn't get the womyn power message from that outdated frying pan over the head, the film tosses in a few more:
- From the trailer – Cathy Rush is “A woman ahead of her times”
- From one of the players – “She already has a husband, why would she want to work?”
- From another player who quits during a practice because of the coach's methods “This is so unlady-like.”
- From her husband – “This (our marriage) isn't working out the way we planned.” Her response – “Well you're just going to have to adjust.”
- From Cathy to her husband – “You'd rather I just sit at home all day while you travel the country?”
- From her husband – “I travel to pay for this apartment and everything in it. What they pay you, that's not even legal (Remember the movie opening?) Most women, they would be grateful (for everything I do for you).” Her response – An incredulous “Grateful?!”
- From the featurette about the film. The real Cathy Rush says approvingly “The girls at Immaculata bought into the idea that they could do anything.” In opposition to the norm of getting married and having a family.
- Sister Sunday, while drinking with coach Cathy in a bar, tells Cathy she needs to tell her husband that she loves him. Great idea, but it's her husband who makes the first move by abandoning his archaic notions of family and leaving her a basketball and rose as a gift. It isn't until he decides to support her dreams that everything with their marriage gets hunky-dory again.
So back to How to Read a Book. We found the basic argument of the movie presented in the trailer, reiterated in the featurette by the real Cathy Rush, emphasized again in the opening scene and reinforced throughout the movie. We also found that all presentations of the modern feminist mind-set are presented positively and all traditional ideas about the role of women and family are presented negatively. Is this really the message that we as Catholics want to get behind? That dreams trump family? That family is of lesser worth than coaching? That traditional ideas about family and roles are really archaic and deserve to be portrayed in a negative way?
The subplot for the movie focuses on a young sister (Sister Sunday) who is about to complete her fourth year of study and has doubts about taking final vows. The fact that she doesn't even get a real name and doesn't have a “now you know the rest of the story” part at the end I think shows that she is completely fictional. If so then her place in the movie isn't based on real events so the directors could have done anything. This could have been a compelling redemptive story line presented in contrast to Cathy's feminist driven motivations but instead it turns into a “Gee, this young sister doesn't have any of the outdated moral hangups like the other sisters do.” story line. For example:
- The sister demonstrates proper defense technique by grinding her rear into the pelvis of a college guy that Cathy brought on to campus to help the team against school policy. When she's done she slaps him on his butt.
- After winning a conference game Cathy and Sister Sunday go to a bar. Sister Sunday is wearing a ridiculous winter hat over her veil which she has tucked up under it. To Cathy's surprise, she takes of the hat with her veil and orders a beer. Wow, isn't that so cool! She's really with it. Then it gets worse. A local comes up to the table and starts hitting on them. He asks Sister Sunday if she's married and she says “You could say that.” The local asks her what her husband does and she replies “He's a carpenter and he's very good with his hands.” Cathy, whose neanderthal husband is an NBA ref, echoes Sister Sunday's comments. Isn't that so cool? A sister that can make sexual innuendo jokes about Jesus while drinking incognito in a bar! I sure am glad she's part of the movie because the positive portrayal of the sisters wouldn't have been complete without this bit of creepiness. This nice little scene is presented in contrast to the scene at the beginning of the movie when Mother St. John tells Cathy that she would be happy if “these activities (basketball) served to control the girls' hormones.”
Another problem with the film is the idea that lying for loyalty or some other “good” is fine because, well, it just is. No remorse, no guilt and you had better be supportive of the characters who do it because they are loyal and how else will they get to the championship? Have you no heart?
After a crushing loss, Cathy takes the team to a culvert and makes them run drills in the water late at night. Sister Sunday objects and tells her that its wrong but Cathy insists. The next morning Mother St. John confronts Cathy about breaking curfew and what she had the girls do. There isn't any indication that anything serious apart from verbal disapproval will result but Sister Sunday steps up and says it was her idea. Isn't that great? She lied to protect the coach from…nothing and said she had the idea for something she objected to the night before. While this may make everyone feel good, it certainly isn't Catholic morality and certainly goes against the vows she has taken to be part of this religious order.
To get to the national championship the team has to raise money. Unfortunately, they can't raise quite enough but the airline has a policy (these were still the good old days) of letting two sisters fly for free with the team. This allows for a Sister Act rip off where Coach Cathy gets to fly dressed as a sister. Okay everyone, clap and cheer because lying to the airline to cheat them out of their fair fare is fine because how else would the team get to the championship? If you aren't cheering, have you no heart?
There is also another bit of lying that you probably will miss. One of the girls tells Cathy that her parents object to her playing so she told them that she is the team nurse. At the end of the movie this girl gets playing time and takes off her “nurse” uniform which she was wearing to hide her team uniform. No objection is raised about that because, you know, we're talking DREAMS here and those trump everything including parents, husbands and religious obedience.
I don't typically write movie reviews and there are plenty of far worse movies out there. The only reason I took the time to write this is because this is being promoted in Catholic circles as a family-friendly, g-rated, positive-portrayal of sisters so we should all go spend money on it. The problem is that the themes running through the movie, in spite of the uplifting secular message of “live your dreams”, are contrary to Catholic teaching and as such don't deserve our support.