Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Trouble With the Curve

Meet Gus Lobel.  He’s old, he’s crotchety, he’s a widower, and he has failing eyesight. That last part is a big problem for him because he’s a scout for the Atlanta Braves.    He’s old-fashioned – he doesn’t use a computer [he refers to the Internet as the “Interweb”], he prefers to read reports about prospects in newspapers that he has scattered all over his house.  He also prefers to see prospects in person to judge for himself whether a player is worth signing and developing.  He’s the kind of baseball guy that the stat-obsessed number crunchers in Moneyball would deride as being “archaic.” 

Gus has a thirtysomething daughter named Mickey [named after Gus’ favorite player, Mickey Mantle].  She’s a workaholic lawyer who is in line to become a full partner at the firm where she works.  Gus [Clint Eastwood] and Mickey [Amy Adams] don’t get along too well.  Her mom [his wife] died when she was six.  He sent her off to live with relatives while he got on with his life discovering future major league baseball players, and she hates him for it.  She has abandonment issues, and she has commitment issues.  Whenever they get together, their meetings usually end in an argument with him telling her

Pete Klein [John Goodman] is Gus’ friend and his boss.  He knows that Gus is so “old school” that he probably couldn’t use a typewriter, let alone a computer.  He knows that despite Gus’s protests to the contrary, Gus’ eyesight isn’t what it used to be.  He’s seen Gus stumble around his house.  He knows Gus could forget more about baseball in ten minutes than most people could learn in a lifetime.  One of those people who couldn’t learn anything about baseball is a guy named Phillip Sanderson [Matthew Lillard], who is gunning for Gus’ job.  Phillip is the kind of guy you’d like to beat to death with a baseball bat.  He only wants Gus’ job as a stepping stone to become the Braves’ general manager.  He wants to do things the “Moneyball” way.  But Pete wants Gus to go to Asheville, NC to scout the latest high school baseball phenom, a kid name Bo Gentry.  Bo hits home runs with regularity, but he’s really just an asshole who thinks everything is about him.  He’s the kind of self-centered high school jock you’d love to hate.  He doesn’t want any of his teammates to mess up his chances of getting to the big leagues.  He mistreats a food vendor – calls him “Peanut Boy.”  Once he yelled at “Peanut Boy” to toss him some peanuts, but then didn’t pay him.  But this isn’t the last we see of “Peanut Boy.”  Phillip doesn’t need to actually see Bo Gentry – he’s in love with Bo’s stats.  Stats are good enough for Phillip. 

After Gus heads to North Carolina, Pete begs, pleads and grovels with Mickey to go there and help her dad.  The firm assigned her an important case.  Her impending partnership depends on how well she does.  Another guy in her office is also gunning for a partnership.  It’s a classic scenario – two people competing for one job.  One works her ass off, the other is a buttsnorkeler.  But for some unexplained reason she puts her important case on hold to go help her dad scout the kid.  She tries to work on her case while she’s not watching baseball games, but other things get in the way, like Justin Timberlake’s character, Johnny Flannigan.  His character is a guy who is scouting for the Boston Red Sox.  He hopes to parlay the scouting job into the Red Sox broadcast booth.  He knows Gus – Gus scouted him when he was younger and got him signed to the big leagues.  But he ended up with the Red Sox, who used him up too fast – he blew his arm out [rotator cuff] and his career was finished.  Mickey and Johnny slowly, surely and predictably get closer.    Also predictably, the law firm gets nervous about the case and assigns the buttsnorkeler to take over from Mickey.

Mickey and Gus go to a few games and scout Gentry.  At the last game, Gentry gets a curveball and hits to the outfield, where the ball is caught. Gus realizes that Gentry’s hands drift and he can’t hit a curve. He asks Mickey to make sure of this the next time Gentry is up to bat. The pitcher throws another curve, and Gentry hits it out of the park. Mickey sees that Bo’s hands indeed drift when he hits. She tells Gus what she saw and asks Gus how he knew. He tells her that he can hear the sounds of a pure clean pitch and hit. He says she’ll know what it is when she hears it.  Gus tells the Braves to not take Gentry.   He also tells Johnny the Braves are passing on Gentry, but [unbeknownst to Gus] Sanderson had his own guy scouting Gentry and is convinced Gentry is worth the pick.  He’s so sure about Gentry he offers to the GM to fire him if Gentry turns out to be a bad pick [Foreshadowing!].  So the GM listened to Sanderson and took Gentry in the draft.  Johnny thought Mickey and Gus played him for a sucker, got pissed, and left.

Afterwards while Gus and Mickey are having dinner, Mickey wants to talk about why Gus “abandoned” her when she was a child.  He doesn’t.  Earlier in the movie while at a bar Johnny asked Gus how he dealt with being a single father after his wife’s death, to which Gus answered “I didn’t.”  Mickey and Gus argue, and she storms out of the restaurant.  He checks out of the hotel and takes the bus home.  Mickey is all alone at the hotel when she hears two kids playing catch.  She heard “the sound” that Gus told her about.  Who was one of the kids?  You guessed it – it was “Peanut Boy.”  It turns out Peanut Boy [whose real name is Rigo] has an awesome fastball and an even better curveball.  When asked why he didn’t play, his mom [who is a housekeeper at Mickey’s hotel] said his mom wouldn’t let him because he got a “B” in Chemistry [way to go Mom! J].  Mickey thinks she’s found the “real deal” and offered to take him to Atlanta for a tryout.

After the obligatory scene where the GM tells Gus to enjoy his retirement, Pete gets a call from Mickey about who she’s bringing to the ballpark.  Next we see Gentry taking batting practice.  He still effortlessly hits balls out of the park.  Mickey and Peanut Boy show up.  Gentry scoffs at Peanut Boy, but Peanut Boy gets his chance.  He starts pitching batting practice – nothing but fastballs at first.  Gentry can’t touch him – Rigo has some nasty stuff.  Then Mickey tells Rigo to start pitching nothing but curve balls.  Even though Gentry knows they are coming, he can’t touch Rigo’s filthy stuff.  The GM notes as much.  The uppity jock Gentry got his comeuppance.  The old fashioned way was better than the Moneyball way in this case.  Score one for the Luddites!

As Gus and Mickey walk off the field they have the discussion Mickey wanted to have in the restaurant.  Gus tells Mickey about an incident in her childhood when she wandered off and ended up in a barn with a strange man who is touching her.  Gus beat the hell out of the guy, and he realized Mickey was better off living with other relatives who could take better care of her.  Mickey starts crying, saying that spending days with her dad at baseball parks all over the country was the best time of her life.  One gets the feeling throughout the movie that she was born to the baseball life, that it was her true calling. She even admits to Gus that she didn’t want to become a hot-shot lawyer in the first place. Meanwhile, she got a phone call from the law firm.  Apparently the buttsnorkeler didn’t do so well.  Her reaction to the call – she threw the phone in a dumpster.  Both Mickey and Gus have a laugh and reconcile.

After all the parties gather in the GM’s office, the GM asks Gus if he would consider another contract.  Gus says he’ll think about it.  The GM also says he’s going to offer Rigo a contract.  Gus says his hot-shot lawyer daughter will be his agent.  Sanderson scoffs at the whole idea and the GM fires him on the spot [and there was much rejoicing].  When Gus and Mickey leave the park, Johnny is waiting in a car outside.  Mickey gets in and they ride off together, leaving Gus to get dinner alone [happily].

Trouble With the Curve is a lightweight movie by Clint Eastwood’s standards, but this is not a bad thing.  He’s playing the same old grumpy guy he’s been playing for the last 20 years, only he’s not yelling at guys to get off his lawn while pointing a loaded shotgun at them.  Amy Adams is simply wonderful in her role.  I like her – a lot.  She has good on-screen chemistry with both Clint Eastwood and Justin Timberlake.  I must say that I enjoy Justin Timberlake’s acting a whole lot more than his singing.  He should stick with this acting thing.  John Goodman is good as always.  He’s a much underappreciated actor – always has been.   If you ever get a chance to see Trouble With the Curve, do it – you won’t be disappointed.

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