Home > Reviews > GRACIE – Mark Isham

GRACIE – Mark Isham

Original Review by Clark Douglas

Another review, another description of a paint-by-numbers-based-on-a-true-story-sports-saga flick. They seem to keep coming so quickly, don’t they? “Gracie” is loosely based on the real-life events of actress Elisabeth Shue and her brother Andrew. The movie was directed by Shue’s husband, Davis Guggenheim, and stars both Elisabeth and Andrew in supporting roles. It’s definitely a very personal movie for these folks, but critics were not very kind to the film, dismissing it as another ho-hum sports tale. The plot is a mesh of uplifting drama and family tragedy, as a teenage girl aspires to become a soccer star after the death of her brother. Her mother tells her it’s too dangerous, her father won’t support her. Who wants to bet that overcomes some obstacles and wins the love of everybody around her in the end?

Music is provided by Mark Isham, who is no stranger to sports scores (“Miracle”, “Invincible”, “Racing Stripes”). This is an album that throws off the shackles of sports score clichés, which is both a blessing and a curse. On the positive side, Isham’s introspective take on the material is a fresh and surprising approach. On the other hand, the score never drums up very much excitement, which will be a disappointment to those expecting brass fanfares and soaring themes.

The score’s main theme for Gracie is not instantly noticeable, but it’s definitely there. It’s a quiet and thoughtful piece that first shows up in “Johnny”, and continues to float throughout much of the score. It’s generally performed by a meditative piano or keyboard. Another quietly moving theme wafts through “Free Kick” and also turns up later on in pieces like “Granddad”. Various other ideas, all equally understated, pop up from time to time for a one-time appearance. Despite constant thematic presence, you don’t take the themes with you when you’re done listening to the album… what lingers instead is the general mood and atmosphere that Isham creates.

The first trace of energy is in the brief “Appealing to the Board”, which allows Isham’s trademark keyboards to dance for a moment. The firsts “sports action” material begins to form in “First Two Cuts”, which takes an unusual and surprising approach. Rather than offering up the usual heroics, the sports music is built primarily around percussion and keyboards, offering a very rhythmic approach that feels quite appropriate for a soccer game. After some short moments of quiet reflection in “JV Practice” and “Letting Go”, the scores kicks into it’s nine-minute finale, “Gracie’s Free Kick/Beating Kingston”.

Isham has carefully built his way up to this moment, and that makes it all the more rewarding. The piece cuts back and forth between thematic statements of the primary material and action music, which is beefier and more exciting than anything that has proceeded it. The percussion is heavier, the dancing keyboards are replaced with racing strings. However, even this piece takes the emphasis on the action and puts it on the characters and emotions, emphasizing the film’s personal triumphs rather than the physical achievements. My only complaint is that the cue’s final note is a little bit inconclusive, but it’s a more appropriate finishing point than many score albums I’ve heard, so that’s a minor complaint. To finish this paragraph on a positive note, the 40-minute running time is just right, and will encourage repeat listens (which this score deserves and needs).

When I listened to Mark Isham’s “Gracie” for the first time, I will confess that I had my own disappointment. After hearing Isham’s rousing scores for others sports dramas, I expected more of the same. However, returning to the album time after time, I found the experience to be increasingly rich and rewarding. Put aside your expectations for “Gracie” as a sports score, and simply approach it as if it were a dramatic character study. On that level, it succeeds admirably, and Isham deserves recognition for choosing to work from the inside of the story rather than the outside. A truly thoughtful film score.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  • Free Kick (3:04)
  • Johnny (3:22)
  • Gracie’s Revelation (2:22)
  • Shit Sandwich (1:57)
  • I Am Tough Enough (1:05)
  • Granddad (1:21)
  • Let Me Help You (1:13)
  • Asphalt Soccer (1:43)
  • You Were Like a Star (1:32)
  • Appealing the Board (1:46)
  • Lindsay’s Speech (1:07)
  • I Coach You Now (0:56)
  • First Two Cuts (2:49)
  • Third Cut (2:19)
  • JV Practice (2:27)
  • Letting Go (1:14)
  • Gracie’s Free Kick/Beating Kingston (8:58)

Running Time: 39 minutes 13 seconds

Lakeshore Records LKS-339402(2007)

Music composed by Mark Isham. Conducted by Mike Nowak. Orchestrations by Conrad Pope, Nan Schwartz Mishkin and Clifford J. Tasher. Recorded and mixed by Shawn Murphy. Edited by Jennifer Nash. Album produced by Mark Isham.

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