Mighty Macs Film Commentary

I write this blog during my free time, which is why when I’m traveling, not much blogging happens. Lately however, I haven’t been traveling, I’ve just been extra busy. I’m doing some pretty intense writing, and prepping for some wonderful upcoming events (our Lenten Discernment Retreat, and our upcoming Cinema Divina evening with the best Catholic film in recent memory, Of Gods and Men).

I have freed up a little chunk of time that I will try to fit in blogging more consistently–a couple evenings a week. Hopefully you’ll see the fruits of those efforts in the next few weeks.

One other writing update: the extra materials that I’ve prepared for the readers of See Yourself Through God’s Eyes have finally found an online home! The material I’ve already prepared is going to take a different format, so I’ll be working on that in the next couple of weeks as well. Right now, it looks like the new material will go up in May.

I know I’m behind on my blog when I have film commentaries ready to post and never actually put them up. Here’s my commentary on Mighty Macs, which recently released to DVD.

Mighty Macs is a light-hearted, worthwhile family film that deserves a wider viewing than provided by the limited theatrical release in the US and the total lack of a theatrical release in Canada. The story of Mary’s basketball team (“Mac” is short for  “Immaculata”), the small women’s college basketball team who amazingly won the first ever collegiate award for women’s basketball in 1972. At the time, both Immaculata College and its team were struggling to survive. The team had no gym—it had burned down the year before; no money—the school itself was struggling for survival; and horribly outdated uniforms. A typical sports movie, Mighty Macs is about a “little” team overcoming all odds.

Strengths

One of the reasons sports movies can be so enjoyable is their powerful themes of perseverance and following your dreams. Mighty Macs has those elements with a special twist: overcoming inequality.

Based on true events in 1972 where women’s collegiate basketball was just beginning to gain recognition, Mighty Macs highlights the many inequalities these young women were struggling against: family expectations, no money, lack of respect, societal pressures, and a history of losing. First time basketball coach Cathy Rush (abrasively but likably portrayed by Carla Gugino) faced the same pressures–even from her loving husband who at first didn’t support her goals. The Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary–the community running the college–seem to care more for the exercise than for the sport at first. Then we discover the sisters are desperately trying to ensure the college’s survival, in a world dominated by big universities and a primarily male board of directors. The sisters are also being told what to do, and the unexpected wins of the basketball team help to level the sides of the dialogue.

The strength of the film is that it’s about the team working together. With strong acting, a solid script,  and no “preachy” moments ringing false, Mighty Macs is an enjoyable family film and a must-see for fans of women’s basketball.

Mighty Macs is not a film about faith; rather, it’s a faith-friendly film where the characters work out their difficulties in an atmosphere of faith. The faith element is visibly present–two of the main characters are nuns in habits–but faith is not the focus of the film, it’s the context.

A personal side-note here: Often the portrayal of religious life in film is either negative or extremely superficial. While this film doesn’t have time to delve deeply into the characters of any of the sisters, I came away liking the image of religious life Mighty Macs offers. It’s obvious the screenwriter knows sisters: that they’re real people, who actually need to have a special spirit–a determined kind of courage–to live religious life.

Limitations

I’m not a huge fan of the sports movie genre. The sports arena can feel somewhat predictable, and thus the triumph of winning the game at the end can seem overly sentimental to me. While this is somewhat true for Mighty Macs, a couple of the games were dramatized so well that I was not sure if they would be wins or losses.

The “team” character of the film means that no one character is deeply developed; rather, there are many characters with smaller character growth. I found myself caring less about individual characters, but more for the team as a whole. I wanted to join the cheering nuns on the sidelines! With so many subplots, not all of them were resolved by the end of the film. This could be a flaw for some viewers, but I think it makes the film more realistic.

How is Mighty Macs a Window to the Soul?

While sports movies aren’t my personal favorites, they offer great metaphors for the spiritual life.

As portrayed in the film, the upstanding values of Coach Cathy Rush, as well as the selfless generosity of Mother Superior, are high notes. Both women–as well as the basketball team–are up against huge obstacles. Their strength, honesty, negotiating skills, and sheer grit in the face of overwhelming odds are inspiring. Just as moving are the efforts of Sister Sunday, a young sister discerning her call as a religious who gives the team and its coach unqualified support. Finally, the way the young women finally came together to become a team is inspiring as well. Equality—or the dignity and worth of each person—is the true “Catholic” note in the film: rich or poor, male or female, big university or small college.

Might Macs is a fascinating portrayal of the journey of this women’s team, who truly overcame impossible odds just to make it to the championship games.

Gospel Themes:

Equality–the dignity and worth of every person
Faith in difficulty
Perseverance
Team spirit (Community)
Discernment in Following Christ

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