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So few are the inspirational sports movies for girls that this formulaic drama about an underdog basketball team that beats the odds to win the national collegiate championship can be forgiven any sins. That’s especially good because there are a lot of nuns around for the dispensation of holy passes – Hail Marys and otherwise. The Mighty Macs tells the story of future Basketball Hall of Fame coach Cathy Rush who, as a rookie at the Catholic, all-women Immaculata College, led her girls to three consecutive national championships from 1972 to 1974. Mix Hoosiers with Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit and you’ll wind up with something like The Mighty Macs.
Even if you’re not familiar with Rush and her catalytic coaching career, you already know the path The Mighty Macs charts because you’ve seen it often enough in other inspirational sports dramas. Here it is also tinged with the ever-permeating feminism of the times. When Rush arrives at Immaculata, it is a small, bankrupt college in Philadelphia on the verge of selling its campus to developers. There are no funds for a gymnasium or uniforms; in fact, the guiding principle of the school’s sports program is the suppression of female hormones. Rush, a former basketball player and new bride to NBA referee Ed T. Rush (David Boreanaz), seeks the coaching position as a self-challenge. Rush is able to translate that challenge to her students, teaching lessons in self-confidence, self-discipline, and teamwork along with dribbling and defense. Though her total commitment to the job causes a slight ruffle in her marriage, the tension subsides before it even has a chance to foment.
Writer/director Tim Chambers is unable to infuse his film with any tension or suspense, and with the team’s come-from-behind win a foregone conclusion, there are only the performances and the sisters-doing-it-for-themselves spirit to bolster The Mighty Macs. As the abbess of the institution, Ellen Burstyn is solid but won’t earn the kudos bestowed on Meryl Streep when she donned the habit in Doubt. Carla Gugino, however, energizes the film with every step of her self-assured stride. She genuinely manages to create a dimensional character who is fulsomely inspirational – and as I said at the outset, that’s not too shabby an accomplishment when it comes to the world of women and sports movies.