Baseball movies are a dime a dozen. Some of them learn to transcend the sports genre and become universal tales while others struggle getting off the field and into our hearts. I rarely enjoy sports dramas if only because I find the sport boring and everything about sports films to be tired and repetitive in nature. Last year’s Moneyball was boring and cold, yet this year’s Trouble with the Curve is full of heart and a story that’s familiar to the genre, but different because of its strong father daughter bond and well-casted supporting players. Consider me surprised and impressed.
Gus (Clint Eastwood) is an old and grumpy baseball scout. His vision is dimming and he’s too stubborn to hang it up and call it quits. He’s on the tail end of his contract, which means he needs to step it up if he wants to keep living the dream. His good friend Pete (John Goodman) understands that, so he begs Gus’ daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to go on the road with him and help him scout a player.
Mickey and her father Gus never had the best relationship, with Gus practically shipping her off when her mother died. They’re not close in any way and whenever Mickey tries to enter Gus’ life he simply grunts at her and walks away. She’s a hard-working lawyer that’s trying to make partner, but she realizes that her dad needs her now more than ever, so she takes a few days off to go on the road once again with her father.
Former baseball player Johnny (Justin Timberlake) also plays a transitional part of the film, because at one point he and Gus were real close, but then Johnny’s arm went out and with it his career. He’s now scouting for the time being hoping to eventually become a broadcaster. He’s shuffled into the lives of Gus and Mickey during their trip, making for a three-way blend of past regrets and hopeful futures.
Frequent assistant director/second unit director Robert Lorenz takes over the full directing responsibilities from Eastwood in his first film fully in charge. Eastwood’s hands are all over Trouble with the Curve, but Lorenz knows when to cut the dry old man humor and to focus on the heart of the story, which is the father daughter relationship that rebuilds itself practically from the ground up. Instead of easing the characters onto each other Lorenz just wipes the slate clean and starts fresh.
Mickey and Gus only share the common traits of blood and baseball and aside from that they can barely stand each other for no longer than 15 minutes. Each and every conversation they have ends in one of the two getting mad and walking out on the other and that’s okay, because Trouble with the Curve isn’t about slow healing, it’s about starting fresh and second chances.
Gus was never the father figure that he should have been and he knows that. He doesn’t choose to hide that fact, he simply chooses to ignore it whenever brought up. Clint Eastwood is the perfect man for this role, because these days he’s only good in front of the camera when he needs to be a grumpy old recluse that doesn’t want to talk about emotions or feelings because that’s not how men do things in his old-fashioned head. Eastwood grunts and moans and is almost unwatchable at the beginning of the film, but he does warm up and start to show why he’s still acting at such an old age.
His only hiccup is his brief moment of song, but luckily for us it’s just a few lines and not an entire damn song (see Gran Torino‘s end credits).
Amy Adams is the home run hitter of the film. Her performance as the understanding daughter Mickey is patient and loving even when she has every right to just walk away. She’s got thick skin and a big heart and Adams brings more than a smile and her good looks to the role. She’s the daughter that every dad dreams of having and the girlfriend that every guy would be lucky to have.
Justin Timberlake‘s Johnny is an important character to the film in terms of progression and mending past mistakes, but his performance is an afterthought because of the dominance of the screen between Adams and Eastwood. The two really do hit it off well and their chemistry is a lot stronger than anything Timberlake brings to the table. That’s not to discredit him as an actor, but his role seems to come in waves of importance, acting in the moment and never a lasting appeal.
Trouble with the Curve manages to overcome the huge obstacle that many sports films have and that’s appealing to non-sports fans. I don’t care for baseball, but I very much cared for Trouble with the Curve and the characters that filled the screen. Robert Lorenz‘ family drama hit home for me, despite my lack of love for the sport. This is undoubtedly because of Eastwood and Adams; both possess the power to elevate just about any role into something that you grow attached to.
The film does carry some baggage, like a weak ending and some slightly painful rookie performances, but almost all of that seems like minor errors when viewing the film as a whole. The good stuff in the film is just so much better than it rightfully should be and it really does make something of a miracle.
Trouble with the Curve is everything last year’s Moneyball failed to be and then some. It’s a family drama with old-time American feel to it. It works because of simple things like its characters and its story, even when the entire film feels like something you’ve already seen. It just works so much better here. Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams are the life and blood of the film, much like baseball and tough love is the life of their on-screen relationship.
Trouble with the Curve – 7.5/10