'The Mighty Macs': A fairy-tale story of hoops success
The Mighty Macs is a true-life fairy tale set in Malvern once upon a time before Title IX. More specifically, 1971.
That year, some female hoops competitors still wore skirts on the hardwood. Almost as many still played by the old-school women's rules of half court.
As Tim Chambers' film tells it, at what was then called Immaculata College, a females-only institution on the brink of insolvency, there wasn't even a half court to play on when Cathy Rush (Carla Gugino), as bold as she was beautiful, took the coaching job. That's because the gym had burned down.
Macs presents Rush as a cheeky New Woman who renews the hope and faith of a musty old school where to be a woman was to be submissive. With the assistance of a hoops-wise novice, Sister Sunday (Marley Shelton), Rush drills it into her team that there's no deference in basketball.
The ball thrust into Rush's hands by Immaculata's Mother Superior (Ellen Burstyn) is deflated and dinged beyond repair. It's emblematic both of the resources and the morale on campus when Rush arrives. "Our last ball," says the nun sternly. "Don't lose it."
Without a gym, uniforms, or committed players, Rush builds a team and school pride. The Macs' cheerleaders - a flock of nuns who know their pick-and-roll - bring an alternative meaning to the '70's slogan "sisterhood is powerful."
The Mighty Macs was written and directed with obvious affection by Chambers, the former director of the Pennsylvania Film Office. He was a 10-year-old in Newtown Square when he watched the team practice in the gym at his parish school. His genial tale of team building is not quite the Sister Act of the courts. Pleasing rather than rousing, informational rather than inspirational, Macs is more of a sit-in-the-bleachers-and-clap than a stand-up-and-cheer affair.
This story of a team is mostly about Rush, a high school hoops star who was cut from her team and who, in coaching the Macs, settled scores with the coach who didn't value her talents. One wishes that Chambers had more gracefully integrated the stories of the individual players into this celebration of Rush.
Still, it is hard to resist the warmth and authority of Gugino, who resembles the Police Woman-era Angie Dickinson with Farrah Fawcett hair.