Pretty Tough sat in my Amazon watchlist for a long time, because it looked like one of those low quality movies that was either exploitative of teen girls or from the Christian network. So I was surprised when I found Pretty Tough to be pretty good, and neither exploitative nor religious.
Unfortunately, Pretty Tough is already out of date on two important subjects: sexuality and coach-player relationships. So it might be good to discuss those 2 topics in advance of your young girls watching this film. Filmed in 2010, the cultural attitudes and laws on those topics have changed drastically in the past 10 years. But I felt the film was good enough to recommend even with those disclaimers.
You can watch the trailer for a synopsis of the whole plot. High school sophomore Charlie (Adelaide Kane) is on a rampage to upstage her older sister Krista. Krista (Crystal Young) is the star of the soccer team, hangs with a child actress, has a flashy boyfriend, and she has unintentionally won the sycophancy of Charlie’s former best friend, Regen.
Charlie is a superb athlete who is a winning surfer, but she used to play club soccer. New Beechwood Academy Coach Martie recruits her to tryout for the team. Coach Martie also recruits handsome 21-yo Noah as an assistant coach, who gives young Charlie lots of soccer encouragement but ends up romantically entangled with big sister Krista.
Besides looking for ways to best her sister, Charlie’s biggest problem is the relentless attacks from her former BFF Regen (Beth Behrs). Regen constantly derides Charlie for her tomboy appearance, just short of calling her a lesbian. This is why Charlie is on the warpath against Krista, who had failed to protect her and stand up to Regen’s taunts.
Krista has her own problems to deal with: applying for college, the boyfriend pressuring her for sex, and her recovery from an ACL repair. While Charlie’s hostility is also a problem for Krista, she doesn’t really deal with it until it comes down to the big game.
Cultural changes that lessen the story
The last decade has seen major changes in American attitudes toward sexuality and toward women in sport. Acceptance of homosexuality has increased, especially amongst female athletes. Soccer stars like Megan Rapinoe have established inspirational role models where athletes can be gorgeous, sexy, ass-kickers, and gay. So to see Charlie derided for dressing as a tom boy or for playing soccer with boys is pretty old school.
Secondly, the story tries to imply that Charlie is not gay, and it’s a bit sad when she is pictured as being more worthy because an unknown boy pays her some attention, or when her 2 closest teammates get dates for prom. Of course, the title Pretty Tough implies those are a female athlete’s goals, to be pretty and to be tough. But today, pretty might be passé. At least, I sure hope it is.
It was also a little strange that the story emphasized Krista’s virginity. Considering the first 10-20 minutes of the film were about drunken beach and pool parties in Malibu, it seemed unlikely that anyone over the age of 14 would still be a virgin. In the beginning, I wondered if the film were going to be a beach soccer version of Clueless, but thankfully the emphasis shifted course.
The other recent cultural change is the coach-player relationship. After the many abuses of top female athletes by coaches and other authority figures, a sexual or other inappropriate relationship is verboten in sports. Even in a recreational league like AYSO, adults are instructed to never be alone with a player of any age and the opposite sex. Today, it is hard to imagine that any team official would bring in a good-looking 21 year old single male to coach a bunch of high school girls. May as well just burn your team’s liability insurance policy.
The characters don’t really try to play soccer. But under the guidance (and refereeing) of soccer coach and choreographer Dan Metcalfe, the play substitutes pretty well for the real thing. Well, except for the fact that the team practices on the beach a lot.
Aside from the cultural issues above, I feel that Pretty Tough is worth watching. The values of teamwork and sisterhood are communicated in the big game. Brandi Chastain gives a nice little speech before the shootout, telling the girls to just breathe.
The acting is pretty good and the little side stories, twists, and turns hold your interest. Most of the cast has kept working, which is a testament to their talent. The exception is Crystal Young, who has not performed another screen role since playing Krista. She seems to have disappeared from the internet.
It appears the film was initially a webseries of 15-18 episodes of 5-7 minutes each. The series was based on the eponymous young adult fiction book. The episodes were seamlessly glued together to create this feature length film. You can watch the first 2 episodes of the show on the Pretty Tough Youtube channel. And it appears you can still purchase Pretty Tough merchandise from Executive Producer Jane Schonberger.
7 Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 7