By Linc Leifeste | September 20, 2012
Director: Robert Lorenz
Writer: Randy Brown
Starring: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Chelcie Ross, Raymond Anthony Thomas, Ed Lauter, George Wyner, Bob Gunton, Matthew Lillard, Robert Patrick, Joe Massingill, Jay Galloway, Peter Hermann
I’m torn about what my opening line of this review should be. Option 1: Buried underneath the ham-fisted cornpone that is Trouble with the Curve lies the strong and steady heartbeat of the film, the charmingly charismatic interplay of leads Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams. Option 2: Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams are shockingly charming and convincing as an aging baseball scout and his successful lawyer daughter struggling through a strained relationship, their dynamic interplay hitting all the right notes, making you forget (or at least forgive) the obnoxious mediocrity that is the rest of Trouble with the Curve. At the heart of my unresolved conflict is the question of whether Trouble with the Curve is ultimately a shitty movie that contains a couple of brilliant performances or if those brilliant performances manage to elevate the movie as a whole. In some ways, this reminds me of my recent confliction over Eastwood’s bit of performance art at the Republican National Convention, his brilliant turn with the empty chair being the one moment of unscripted and shockingly unvarnished performance in a sea of mediocre conformity. I say “brilliant turn” despite the fact that as a pro-Romney political speech it was an abysmal failure; probably part of the reason that I ultimately fell so deeply in love with the performance was that it ultimately bit everyone in the butt. Likewise Eastwood and Adams shine in a film that is almost as old-fashioned, simplistic and ultimately hollow as a modern political convention.
Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) is an aged baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves, comfortably ensconced in the past, recalcitrant in his disdain for computers and the Moneyball era of Sabermetrics worship. But it’s been many years since his glory-day scouting of stars such as Dusty Baker and Tom Glavine and now younger front-office competitor Phillip Sanderson (Matthew Lillard) would like nothing more than to see Lobel put to pasture at the end of his current two year contract. Sanderson and his Billy Bean-worshiping clique want to use the Braves’ first pick in the MLB draft to sign hot-shot North Carolina high school slugger Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill) based solely on computer-crunched stats and projections. But head of scouting Pete Klein (John Goodman) still believes in Gus and wants him to go check out Gentry in person. The problem is that Gus is having serious vision problems and it’s become apparent to Klein that something isn’t right. So he places a call to Gus’ daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), to see if she’d be willing to join her father in North Carolina and give him an assist.
As a clunky ode to old fashioned baseball scouting, with it’s veneration of the art of scouting over the utilization of technology (as though it makes any sense for this to be an either/or proposition), Trouble with the Curve can be seen as something of an inferior answer film to last year’s Moneyball. This time around, the group of crusty elder scouts that Eastwood joins in North Carolina get the last laugh over the younger technologically savvy stat-driven set, but if quality film-making determines the outcome of philosophical baseball debates, Sabermetrics reigns supreme. As a baseball movie, this film is a bust. From the wooden dialogue and cliched characters of the front-office set to the hackneyed arrogant high school athlete whose over-the-top moral failings are intended as a sure sign of his athletic limitations (if only the real world worked this way!), this is a film that is cloyingly earnest in its simplistic story telling. So when in a closing miraculous twist of fate, the very same modest minority peanut vendor that is mocked by slugger Gentry turns out to be an unknown diamond in the not-so rough pitcher who shows him up on the field in front of the whole Braves organization, my eyes were no longer rolling up in my head as much as staring incredulously blankly at the screen, begging for the credits to roll already.
But where Trouble with the Curve fails as a sports saga, it shines as a family drama, with its focus on the criminally underutilized sports-related father-daughter relationship. Gus is a widower, having lost his wife when Mickey was still a little girl, and it’s clear he’s never fully recovered from the loss. So while his ornery old-man crankiness is endearing and at times hilarious, it’s clear that there is more to his geriatric angst than just an enlarged prostrate and vision problems. I’ll admit, these types of scenes will strike people as either mawkish or moving, but watching Gus sitting at his wife’s tombstone, sipping on a pint of beer while wearily, tearfully singing “You Are My Sunshine” put a lump in my throat.
After initially being dumped off with relatives following her mom’s death only to later be shuttled off to boarding school, Mickey has suffered through a whole lifetime of longing for a father who was even marginally emotionally plugged in. She has turned her hurt into a strong career drive, replicating the strong work ethic that she inherited from her father, thriving as a lawyer on the verge of being made a partner in the firm. Like a hammer over the head, the film repeats the mantra that gut instinct beats out stats on paper by having Mickey reject her lawyer boyfriend’s plea to take their relationship to the next level only to find magic in a budding romance with failed MLB pitcher turned talent scout Johnny Flanagan(Justin Timberlake).
Gus is, of course, a product of older times, when men were expected to keep their emotions contained, but the film also reveals that there was a darker chapter in Mickey’s childhood that contributed to her father’s poor decision making. While I found the dynamic of familial longing and emotional denial between Adams and Eastwood to be striking, the film’s all too convenient wrapping up of all loose ends without showing enough of the messy process of resolution is a real shame but is in keeping with the film’s general disregard for complexity or ambiguity. It’s too bad, because their superb performances, while strong enough to make for an overall enjoyable theater experience, deserve a better vehicle.