[21 September 2012]
Trouble with the Curve is a sports drama suffused with anxiety. It begins with Gus (Clint Eastwood), an ageing talent scout for the Atlanta Braves. Long known as one of the best at what he does, Gus is currently feeling pressure, at least in part because his last draft pick hasn’t worked out so well: the once “promising” Billy Clark (Scott Eastwood) is deep into a slump.
The problem for Gus is that his performance depends on others, a dilemma that’s only becoming more pronounced as he’s getting older. Scouting high school phenom Bo Gentry (Jo Massingill) in North Carolina, Gus has help from his boss Pete (John Goodman) and a younger scout, Phillip (Matthew Lillard), who’s convinced answers will be found in a computer-based analysis of statistics and projections.
Gus’ anxieties only deepen when he notices changes in his own body. The film opens with an already notorious scene in which he’s talking to his off-screen penis, awkwardly reminiscent of his conversation with the chair. This leads to another awkward moment, when, following a bump into a coffee table, he kicks it until he levels it. All this makes Pete anxious, and so he convinces Gus’ daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams) to accompany her dad on his next scouting trip. This being a Late Eastwood Movie, Gus will need to work out their long-strained relationship.
Now a corporate lawyer in Atlanta, Mickey—named after Mickey Mantle—still remembers wanting to be a scout too, when she was a girl. In both fields, professional sports and law, she’s surrounded by men whose approval she seems to want. (This means she also has a stake in working out her relationship with Gus.) Even as she’s aiming for partner at her firm, she maintains a certain pride in knowing all about pitches, hitting mechanics, and stats, the knowledge and sensibility she absorbed while traveling with her dad when she was a girl.
Mickey’s both an heir and a rival for her father, and more than a little ready to get out from under her boyfriend back home, Greg (Peter Hermann), who wants to take their relationship to the “next level.” This helpfully allows her to be open to suggestions from her designated love interest, Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a former major league pitcher turned scout and aspiring announcer for the Red Sox. Johnny’s one of those players whose potential never materialized and also, not so coincidentally, once scouted by Gus.
While this sounds complicated, Trouble with the Curve is inclined to smooth over any such thing. Rather, it aims pretty directly at being the most basic of romantic comedies, framed by the saga of Gus’ redemption. And so, even as the youngsters are supposed to appreciate one another’s gender-role-blurring, Gus is cast as the old man in need of education, if not precisely recuperation. On one level, Gus’ ancient thinking serves as a running joke: “My daughter can throw better than that,” he says by way of dismissing a prospect, on top of more than a few suggestions about what girls “should” or “shouldn’t” do.
His pontificating belies Gus’ growing unease about his own masculine body, currently paying for many years of imbibing beer and red meat. This unease (also a yearning for some good old days) is mapped onto the film’s own sort of nostalgia, as Gus continues to rely on his tried and true methods, the countless hours he’s spent watching game film and on the road in search of intangible talent. He still believes that this time-tested process is the truest means of determining a player’s eventual value.
As Mickey becomes more invested in being and scouting with her dad, she inevitably comes to forgive his insensitivity, appreciate his old-school approach to his job, and also sympathize with his anxieties. As she comprehends his resistance to change and so his embodiment of the movie’s hazy nostalgia, we do too. As Gus’ version of that nostalgia turns more sentimental (for instance, when he begins singing to his dead wife), his anxiety finds form and so, resolution. Trouble with the Curve supports his looking back rather than forward, inviting us to look back too, at Eastwood’s past career and his iconic masculinity, as well as the era that produced them.