September 27, 2012

For the Love of the Game, Any Game

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I settled in at the theater in my hometown to watch Trouble with the Curve this weekend with a few friends and a composition notebook. Having been put off of Moneyball by Brad Pitt’s track suits and Jonah Hill’s face, I was looking forward to the evening as my first chance in a long time to appreciate a really good sports movie. Communist subversive that I am, I have absolutely no interest in baseball. But a solid sports movie is not really about loving the sport that it features, as Cinderella Man or Remember the Titans or Miracle should tell you nearly incontrovertibly. As an audience, we don’t sweat the details and are really just looking for the opportunity to be inspired — by a game,  any game.

And of course, I am always looking for another reason to fall in love with Clint Eastwood.  But Trouble was, starting right-off-the-bat with our sports metaphors, a game of softball with one of America’s favorite hard-hitters. Eastwood’s Gran Torino and Million Dollar Baby characters are grim, devil-eyed fear mongers, for the most part incapable of human interaction  — except when they melt into a puddle for one special little girl. But Trouble’s Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood), an aging baseball scout and widower, absentee father and vintage car / growling enthusiast, is a watered-down and beaten-down version of this go-to lovable curmudgeon character. He falls flatter and flatter with every Betty White-esque quip centered around the feeble humor of “being elderly.”

Though Trouble is the writing debut of Randy Brown and directing debut of Robert Lorenz, its characters and plot are far from fresh. The film disappoints even with the caveat of “romantic comedy.” Trouble starts as Gus’ story: as an aging and somewhat old-fashioned scout for the Atlanta Braves, he is being given what feels like one last chance to follow a recruit and prove his worth to the franchise. His daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), is a no-nonsense lawyer-lady-dragon-person in heels and pencil skirts who remembers more than she’d like to admit about baseball and billiards from her days on the road with her father. Worried about Gus, his best friend Pete (John Goodman)  asks Mickey to follow her father.  In the effort, she risks her own career. The expected tomboy regression, argument-filled meals in diners and car wrecks both literal and less-so, ensue. Justin Timberlake appears midway as Adams’ genuinely unbelievable and potential time-filler of a romantic interest, while Joe Massingill appears in his first full-length film as the conceited and ostensibly racist High School draft pick whom Gus is following. Neither they, nor any of the high-quality character actors who play Gus’ group of scouting friends (Chelcie Ross, Raymond Anthony Thomas and Ed Lauter) manage to save the film. Too much screen time is given to the overtly clichéd, “complicated’ father-daughter relationship between Mickey and Gus. It is so very very sad, we are told, because Gus placed Mickey in the care of her aunt and uncle while he went on the road for most of her adolescence, leaving her to assume her own guilt. You know, the way kids do when their single father wishes to both have a job and avoid a truancy lawsuit. All the while there was just something she didn’t understand. Heavy-handed foreshadowing indicates that the secret will be good — in other words, stay in your seats, please. The “a-ha” Oprah moment comes through with exactly as much poorly-calculated melodrama as you’d expect.

Turning away from its contrived and predictable plot and towards its collection of motley performances, Trouble reveals its hidden potential by starting a rousing game of “Where do I recognize that guy from?” After a few frustrated moments of silence, we’re snapping our fingers:

John Goodman as Gus’ loyal friend Pete — the voice of Monsters Inc.’s “Sully.” Matthew Lillard, Gus’ hot-shot nemesis — “Shaggy” of the live-action Scooby-Doo. It is much less comical and far more saddening to remember Amy Adams’ The Fighter and Junebug days. The exhibitions of genuine spunk in these films stand in stark contrast to the generic anger she seems to express towards everyone and everything in Trouble, as well as the bordering-on-obnoxiously repetitive declarations of independence and female empowerment. There’s more than enough material for a drinking game — shots every time Amy Adams storms out of a room! Chasers when she flips her luscious red locks at us as she goes! Though Eastwood’s glory days need not even be addressed, his Batman grumble and his lizard skin in this movie definitely should. And even relatively-inexperienced Timberlake has had more satisfying moments in The Social Network and his Emmy-nominated Saturday Night Live hosts than what he offers the altogether trite “good-hearted” but, as is the implication, simple-minded contrast to Adams’ ambitious intellectual.

Trouble With the Curve is a simply-constructed movie that spoils its own plot before it gets five minutes into it. The problem is that we aren’t sure what we’re signing up for. Sitting in the same theater just weeks ago, I watched the trailer and thought, “This looks cute. The music is cheerful and nice. I might go see this if there’s nothing better.” And so maybe it’s just the fact that we are so accustomed to Eastwood reinventing the drabber parts of played-out genres that made me hope Trouble could be a fresh addition to “eager little sports movies with heart.” Either way it doesn’t happen. Trouble With the Curve is fun in the way that Bend it Like Beckham makes you laugh even if you have never touched a soccer ball and nice in the way that Greatest Game Ever Played’s class makes you smile as if Tiger Woods had never happened. But the film is also really and truly off-the-mark in the way that The Blind Side is about giving college scholarships to a person for being shaped like a refrigerator and Friday Night Lights is actually an after-school special about the innate danger of living in Texas. It’s a misstep of a story and if anything, just a well-researched sports tangent. Trouble falls short of inspiring and so, without love of the game — there is no love for this film.

Original Author: Kaitlyn Tiffany