SPORTS FILM REVIEW – “Trouble With the Curve”

I never saw a baseball film I didn’t like.

That’s just who I am.

Even if a film isn’t very good, I’ll still like it if it’s about baseball.

I have a simple explanation why:  Like chocolate and peanut butter, our national pastime and film go together like a match made in Heaven.

Baseball is filled with romanticism, history, records, memories, spectacle, and suspense.  A perfect muse for the silver screen.

This is why I always seem to like a baseball film regardless of quality.

All of which explains why I enjoyed the motion picture “Trouble with the Curve”.  It certainly wasn’t due to the flawed script and cheesy dialogue.  Regardless of good intentions and decent performances, this film strikes out because filmmakers did not fully develop any of the interesting baseball themes it introduced.  Instead, they relied upon a formulaic subplot to drive the story forward which ultimately resulted in a lack of depth.

Still, similar to “Field of Dreams” and “The Natural”, “Trouble with the Curve” worked for me because it revealed how baseball can bring people together and help bridge the gap between generations, a theme very close to my own heart.

Played by Clint Eastwood, the main character is “Gus Lobel” a long-time, respected baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves.  At the start of the film, we see Gus experiencing aging issues which he tries to hide from others, and himself.  But, his boss & friend “Pete” (played by John Goodman) senses something is wrong and pleads to the only person who may be able to help – Gus’ daughter “Mickey” (Amy Adams).

Mickey isn’t thrilled with the idea of taking time away from her very busy life as an attorney, especially to tend her father – a man she resents for his treatment of her in the past.  Alas, she reluctantly decides to leave her job temporarily and joins Gus in North Carolina on the road while he is checking out the country’s hottest batting prospect in the minor leagues before the draft.

Soon after she joins her father, Mickey finds out quickly that Gus’ eyes are failing and could jeopardize his job.  She is concerned about her father’s health and also, takes the opportunity to enter into her own journey towards understanding him and how he shaped her life.  She confronts Gus about why he sent her away at times during her childhood instead of letting her be with him while was on the road doing his job.  He tells her that instead of dragging her around the country to small towns, low budget motels, and seedy bars, he’d thought it best she be in better conditions.

But, ultimately, Mickey reveals to Gus that she actually cherished those times with her father on the road and enjoyed his knowledge of baseball, a love for the sport she inherited.  She admits that at first, she just wanted to fit in and be near her father, but she soon learned everything about the game of baseball through watching him and listening to his stories.  And, eventually the sport found its way into her heart too.

Over the course of the story, the two try to make amends about the past and discover that baseball is their link.  If not for that, it’s probable that Gus and Mickey would never have realized a decent adult relationship.

It is in this theme that I found the real value and connectivity to this film, and feel that other baseball fans will too.

Similar to my own life, my Dad is responsible for my love of the game, and sports in general.  During my childhood, his job took him away from home a lot.  But, when he was home, I tagged along everywhere he went, including in front of the tv where he watched a ton of baseball (his favorite sport) and outside where we threw the ball around.  Naturally, while I enjoyed time with my Dad, my love for the game of baseball grew as well.

And, while my Dad and I haven’t always been close since then, whenever we are together or talk on the phone, baseball always seems to end up in our conversations.  It’s just a comfortable place that the two of us share and that no one will ever take away from us.

Another theme of the film that touched me was Mickey’s experiences as a woman in the male dominated world of sports.  In “Trouble with the Curve”, Mickey is an informed feminine woman whose knowledge and experience in baseball is often taken for granted by men.  She sometimes felt ostracized, and found that she had to prove herself to get the respect she deserved.

Not to get all feminist here, but I have also experienced the same kind of bias during the course of my life.  In fact, it’s the reason I started my sports blog – so I, as a woman, can share my knowledge, experiences and have a voice about sports.  I have long found it difficult to get in on conversations about sports or be taken seriously that this could ever become a career for me.  But, like Mickey, I realize that I have more knowledge about sports than many men I know and, I’m not afraid to use it.

Finally, I enjoyed getting to know more about the life of a baseball scout in “Trouble with the Curve”.  While Gus & Mickey have their differences, Gus’ job at that moment is to assess the abilities of a hotshot batting prospect for the Braves.  Behind the scenes and in the GM’s office, a young upstart scout who relies upon stats thinks the prospect is a slam dunk future superstar that should be signed.  But, Gus sees problems in the prospect’s swing in person.  He suggests that the Braves do not sign the hitter and instead, use their 1st round draft pick for another more worthy player.  The GM, who is on the fence, decides to go against Gus’ advice & with the younger idealist.  In the end, Gus is proven right.

And, while I thought the filmmakers could have expanded this theme, I enjoyed how the movie took on the growing controversial use of saber metrics vs. reliance upon the old-fashioned scout, previously introduced in the 2011 film “Moneyball”.  “Trouble with the Curve” takes on that argument and actually rallies for the benefit of assessing players performance in person over time, rather than just looking at stats on paper.  On the flip side of that issue, exists the hard work these scouts have to endure.  Like Gus, they often have to sacrifice their wallets & personal relationships to make themselves available for hours, days, and years to evaluate players’ abilities for the organization.  It was very compelling.

In the end, I think this film was brimming with interesting ideas and tried to tackle them all, but didn’t fully develop any of them.  It’s a shame, because this could have been a very good movie, instead of mediocre, if treated right.

Still, lots to like in this film for baseball lovers, especially.


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