Netflix announced today that they’ve got the movie rights to The Girls of Summer, by Jere Longman. Longman’s book details the buildup to and winning of the 1999 World Cup, adding deep emotional and historical context by discussing things like Mia Hamm’s extreme performance anxiety and Michelle Akers’ fight with chronic fatigue syndrome. Variety has reported that the book is now being developed into a feature film. Some of the 1999 team also filmed an announcement.
The implication of casting actors for some players implies that this could be a dramatic adaptation, instead of a documentary-style film. It would be amazing to get something that really brings the players to light as individuals, women with their own strengths and weaknesses who accomplished something extraordinary. It would also be nice if the film was able to layer in how much pressure was on them to win, not just a tournament, but respect for their entire sport and their gender. The extent to which a major women’s sporting event tends to become a referendum on female athletes as a whole is an ongoing challenge, but the 1999 World Cup was certainly a watershed moment in adding to the cultural momentum of women’s sports. It’s a defining memory for millions of fans, a common where-were-you-when question. So there’s a lot of pressure here not to drop the ball. They’ll need actors who can convey not just the physicality of the players (let’s go ahead and assume any cast is going to get put through an insane fitness and ball skills camp), but the incredible mental pressure they all endured. Here’s some suggestions for casting, based on the eight players who were in the announcement video:
Michelle Akers - Jennifer Lawrence, Mackenzie Davis
To cast Akers, the first thing you need is someone tall. She doesn’t need to exactly be Akers’ 5’10” (6 feet with hair and cleats) since it’s all about relative heights and many of the actresses she’d be playing against just need to be believably shorter than her. But there are some tall ladies with the necessary gritty physicality and the height. JLaw and Mackenzie Davis both have physical roles under their belts (I’m begging you, watch a completely yoked Davis in Terminator: Dark Fate) and they could bring the emotion to Akers’ battle with chronic fatigue syndrome in the middle of a World Cup.
Brandi Chastain - Alicia Vikander, Evan Rachel Wood, Yvonne Strahovski, Jessica Biel
You gotta get someone who can pull off athleticism for Brandi Chastain, more than most of the other roles, as well as that sunny California grin. All of the actresses above have had action roles, although Wood and Strahovski probably come closest to actually physically matching Chastain. But the ability to portray someone who was a little older and had to earn her way back in will be just as key here.
Joy Fawcett - Betty Gilpin, Sophia Bush
Fawcett’s actress is going to need to be able to bring a sense of maturity and, depending on how much time the movie devotes to her, the ability to integrate her role as a working mom with a very unique job into her overall persona. Gilpin (with a brunette dye job) could be great here, and she has the physical chops from her work on GLOW.
Julie Foudy - Anna Camp, Claire Foy, Cecily Strong
I know what you’re thinking - Cecily Strong? Anna Camp? Claire Foy? How are you ping-ponging from the queen of England to SNL to neurotic a cappella captain? Foudy’s role needs to have a strong comedic background, someone who can handle a well-timed quip as well as the drama. Foy might be your best bet in that arena, especially given how in-shape she got for Girl in the Spider’s Web but come on, can’t you see Strong snarking on the tension with a donut in her hand?
Mia Hamm - Elizabeth Olsen, Hailee Steinfeld, Tatiana Maslany
The Hamm role is probably going to be one of the main focuses of the movie, and it needs someone capable of carrying that focus. You need someone who can bring that particular shark-eyed intensity to the role, but with the vulnerability of someone who knows just how human she is in a never-ending challenge to be the hero her team needs and the icon her nation wants. Steinfeld is a little too tall to be Hamm but has a proven track record with vulnerable intensity, as does Olsen, but maybe Maslany could knock this one out of the park.
Kristine Lilly - Brie Larson, Margot Robbie
Whoever fills the Lilly role, you’ve got to feel like you can trust her. Dependable, level-headed, sensible. Things might get tense but this actress has to be able to carry that responsibility and make us believe in her ability to pop up and head a ball off the line while our hearts stop and restart. If that feels like too much of a background role for A-Listers like Larson and Robbie, listen: this is fancasting, which means no budget limits and no party pooping.
Carla Overbeck - Daisy Ridley, Chyler Leigh
Possibly this is an effort shoehorn admitted soccer fan Daisy Ridley into this project, and she’s probably a bit too young to play team captain Overbeck. That’s where Leigh comes in - she’s definitely got some physical work in her portfolio and she can find the gravitas and intensity you need from someone chosen to wear the armband from a group as competitive and intense as the USWNT.
Briana Scurry - Danai Gurira, Sonequa Martin-Green
“Would you deny this penalty, Briana?” “For the World Cup? Without question.”
Gurira and Martin-Green are both action pros who can also let us into the mind of someone in the most intense position on the field, in one of the most intense penalty shootouts in the history of the sport. Remember how Scurry roared her triumph and pumped her arms after that PK save? You need someone who can create that level of alpha energy on the field, and something a little quieter off of it.
Tony DiCicco - Liev Schreiber
Look, did I make the #1 consideration here “strong ability to carry a mustache”? Not necessarily, but it wasn’t not a factor. Schreiber has the mustache acting ability, and also the regular acting ability. You’ll need someone who can hold up against a crew of presumably very strong actors as the assembled USWNT, but can also be quiet and not distract from the action on the field.
Sun Wen - Tang Wei, Zhou Xun
I do hope this film at least peeks at the US’ counterparts in the final, as well as their leader, Sun Wen. Once again, depending on how much on-the-field action the movie shows, you may need a more athletic actress, or you may want someone who can inhabit the quieter moments - someone who uniquely understood the pressures and livelihoods at stake, but from the other side of the pitch. Zhou is probably way too big a name to fill in what would be a smaller role, but that’s the joy of fancasting. If you want to make every role Meryl Streep, technically, you can. Say...
Filming soccer movies can be tough. Directors have to grasp how to film the action in an authentic way while compensating for actors who may not have the most authentic touch on the ball. How do you convey the sheer kinetic energy of so much happening at once? You’d want someone who has shown they can create that sense of energy in a moving environment where the target is constantly shifting. But they also have to be able to construct scenes that show off the players as people.
Cathy Yan, fresh off of Birds of Prey, could be a great choice here. Queen & Slim’s Melina Matsoukas, with her extensive background in directing music choreography (with a dash of sports from a Nike short video) could have the needed vision. And I’m just going to say it: Céline Sciamma of Portrait of a Lady on Fire fame may not be at the forefront of your mind when you think of a sports movie, but she would do a phenomenal job in bringing a critically empathetic eye to these women’s inner lives.
Who’s your dream cast? Director? What glorious songs of the 90s should be on the soundtrack? Let us know in the comments!