[21 September 2012]
PopMatters Contributing Editor
God bless Clint Eastwood. Instead of collecting Social Security and trading on his already stellar cinematic reputation, he keeps exploring. He’s always looking for ways to expand his legendary motion picture mythos. Sometimes, his creative efforts lead to critical acclaim (Unforgiven, Million Dollar Baby, Mystic River) and commercial success (Gran Torino). On occasion, his otherwise stellar aesthetic stumbles (J Edgar, Hereafter), but for the most part, he’s been more than reliable for close to five decades. Interestingly enough, age sits at the center of his latest effort, the baseball themed dramedy Trouble with the Curve. Eastwood plays an ailing scout for the Atlanta Braves. When vision issues threaten his job, his best pal (John Goodman) arranges to have his distant daughter (Amy Adams) join him on a final, pre-draft jaunt through North Carolina.
There, a prospect named Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill) has a few major league GMs in a panic. He’s apparently destined to go Number One, but the Braves aren’t so sure. Sending Gus (Eastwood) may be his buddy’s way of showing support, but the rest of the management team (Matthew Lillard, Robert Patrick) aren’t so sure. Hedging his bet, Pete (Goodman) approach Mickey (Adams), a high profile Atlanta lawyer, to take some time and help her dad out. She’s reluctant, because of both bad memories from her past, and an important presentation that may lead to a partnership. Naturally, she ends up on the road tour, meeting up with rival scout Johnny (Justin Timberlake) along the way. As they begin an awkward flirtation, Gus discovers something that may make Bo’s dreams of superstardom just that…
Trouble with the Curve should have been better. It should have made up its mind what it wanted to be from the very beginning and stuck with said specific storyline. Instead, it tends to wander aimlessly from idea to idea, never once settling down to really delve into the intrigues and issues presented. After all, within the span of a few characters, we have age discrimination, gender equality complaints, commitment phobia, disease of the week, the glass ceiling, a haunted past, a dead parent, front office arrogance, sports as commerce, and misplaced high school hubris - and we haven’t even mentioned the implied pedophilia, the undiscovered prospect, and a burgeoning romance. At times, it seems as if way too much is going on, requiring longtime first assistant director, first time feature filmmaker (and Friend of Eastwood) Robert Lorenz to swing wildly for the outfield. Most of the time, he barely makes it to the cheap seats.
That’s because Trouble with the Curve doesn’t do enough with its inside baseball business. This is the anti-Moneyball movie, a sports film where the ins and outs of same are kept closed off and clandestine. Of course, some of this is necessary in order to make the last act reveal of Gus’ decision work, but we sure could use more of such likeable lingo and jargon. Even worse, the rest of Eastwood’s curmudgeonly clan, made up of recognizable character actors who barely get names, let alone quality screen time, don’t add to our understanding. They’re just a bunch of old farts who make outrageous claims about today’s young generation while complaining about the metaphysical kids on their front yard. No insight into what they are looking for. No description of what a scout can offer in a world run by the Internet and computer spreadsheets.
In fact, this is a movie about confrontation instead of communication. When Gus feels threatened, he tends to lash out - even if it’s at a coffee table. We spend the entire film waiting for the moment when he “comes clean” to his daughter, explaining his absentee actions for the intervening years. Yet there’s never the basic conversation about the massive age difference. Mickey is 33. Gus is an inferred octogenarian. This means he didn’t have her until he was in his 50s, a fact that never is discussed or dissected. Similarly, we see the grave of Gus’ wife, and it appears she died very young. So, when did she meet up with our hero. Did the May-December nature of their romance doom their child? Who knows.
Similarly, Timberlake’s ex-pitcher has a lot of love for Gus, especially since he played an important role in starting (and stymieing) his career. Yet we never get that moment of real mutual recognition or rejection. In fact, when people aren’t pontificating without interaction, they’re laying on the exposition. Take Mickey’s attempt at making partner. We basically learn everything we need to know…over and over again. She’s worked hard. A competing attorney is a brown nosing jerk. Her boyfriend views everything in terms of acquisitions and mergers (where have we heard THAT before) and the male members of the committee are one step away from ‘barefoot and pregnant’ chauvinism. This isn’t characterization. It’s a series of complaints.
And frankly, we don’t care. Mickey’s career aspirations are a red herring in a film filled with such cinematic fish. Johnny’s possible shot at the announcer’s booth? The reason Gus has haunted memories about a galloping horse? The “get the old man” strategy of Lillard and his ilk? All misdirection, elements meant to add depth but instead sidetrack the film from its (former) America’s past time patina. Trouble with the Curve tries to be the Field of Dreams of 2012 athletics. It argues for the old school - in this case, the really old school - vs. the viability of playing the statistical percentages and yet never really reaches the kind of simplistic Zen such an argument offers. At the very least, it’s an interesting starring vehicle for an A-lister not afraid to show his age. On the other hand, Trouble with the Curve could have been so much better had it simply stuck to the baseball basics. Everything else becomes unearned errors.