The Mighty Macs is a true life drama about a coach who sees national champions in her diamond-in-the-rough women’s basketball team. Carla Gugino stars.
Historic championship team
Gugino (Night at the Museum; Entourage) tests the patience of Mother St. John (Ellen Burstyn) with new ideas and approaches. The mother superior had no idea she was hiring a championship coach.
Women’s athletics marginal
Before Title IX passed, funding for girls’ and women’s athletics was scarce. At all-girl schools like Immaculata, a fervent belief in strong, empowered women thrived.
The film conjures Catholic school life during the exciting and chaotic 1970s. Chambers succeeds at capturing history with just a few embellishments.
When a fire destroys their own gymnasium, the Macs are forced to practice at area schools. As a boy, Chambers first saw the team in the basement gym of his elementary school, Saint Anastasia.
“The way they came in, the way they practiced, their movement and cohesiveness, was so cutting edge for the time,” Chambers told The Philly Post. “Cathy Rush’s swagger and style and leadership were etched in my mind forever.”
Dauntless Rush accepts a salary of $450 for her first season “I would’ve worked for free,” she tells Mother St. John.
The resourceful coach is given one beat-up basketball and homespun team uniforms made by Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton).
Rush toughens the team mentally and physically. A newlywed who loyally attended N.B.A. games officiated by her husband, she is determined to see women excel.
First women’s championship
At the start of the season, Rush asks each player to toss all she knows about basketball into a trash bin. Let the real training begin.
Despite a season of wins and losses, the team receives an at-large bid to compete in the first national women’s basketball tournament.
Oscar winner Burstyn plays the tough, plain-spoken mother superior desperate to save the financially strapped college. As the only female on the college’s board of directors, she becomes sympathetic.
Sister Sunday’s energy
“Jesus likes to dance” embodies Sister Sunday’s philosophy. Shelton (Pleasantville) is fascinating as a young nun who has second thoughts about her vocation. The actor brings emptiness, yearning and energy to an unprecedented film character.
As Rush’s assistant coach, Sister Sunday helps guide and encourage the players. She reveals a zesty spirit – and her past – in a bar scene with Rush. In real life, there was no Sister Sunday.
Players’ roles underwritten
Unfortunately there is scant development of the movie’s remaining characters. This is where The Mighty Macs falls short of films like Hoosiers. Corny dialogue doesn’t help.
Dashing David Boreanaz (of television’s Bones) is hampered by a weakly scripted role. Ed Rush resents his wife’s new career, and then suddenly changes his mind. The players’ roles are thinly written. Biographical sketches at the films’ end reveal more about them.
Women’s sports legend
Rush foreshadows what we’ve come to expect in women’s college athletics. Demanding training, ever-evolving strategy and a fierce determination to win are common today.
Rush’s own basketball career was cut short when, after an outstanding freshman season at Oakcrest High School in New Jersey, her team was terminated.
Rush was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008. She served as Head Coach at Immaculata from 1972-77.
Catholic school memories
The Macs won national titles in 1972, 1973 and 1974. The college went co-ed in 2005, and now has women’s and men’s Division III basketball teams.
If you went to Catholic school, you’ll enjoy The Mighty Macs’ goodness and warmth. Women sports fans will appreciate this portrayal of a pioneering, underdog team. (3 out of 5 stars)
The Mighty Macs 2009 / G / 1 hour, 38 min
Cast Overview: Carla Gugino, Marley Shelton, David Boreanaz, Ellen Burstyn
Director: Tim Chambers
Genre: Drama, Sports