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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
The latest collaboration between Clint Eastwood and longtime producer/assistant director Robert Lorenz is a decent light romantic comedy movie with a few solid performances. It never aspires to the level of pure Oscar bait I thought it might, despite a somewhat maudlin Eastwood performance. Amy Adams, who always does good work, is fine as Eastwood’s long suffering lawyer daughter, and Justin Timberlake, a surprise Hollywood heavyweight these past few years, is legitimately charming and entertaining as a young ex-player turned scout. The movie is competently made (Lorenz’ style is very reminiscent of Eastwood’s work); shots have a tendency to linger momentarily, and the beautiful southeastern United States landscape frames the film well. The trouble with Trouble with the Curve lies in its portrayal of baseball, which is old school, anti-intellectual, and downright wrong in many ways.
Let’s start with Matthew Lillard, who portrays a character named Tom Silver, a would-be future GM who is too busy with his nose in a damn computer program to actually get out to a high school game and scout with his senses like the movie posits he should be doing. Silver is an obvious homage to the Billy Beane/Theo Epstein camp of modern baseball and advanced statistics, valuing spread sheets and deep stats to find quality ball players (the stuff collectively referred to as “Moneyball” in popular culture). Lillard is portrayed as a power-grubbing, know-nothing, out-of-touch with humanity (he doesn’t want to pay for a budding prospect’s family to visit their son’s team, for example), and illogical douchebag. Everything he does smacks of smug, self-satisfied arrogance. Every player he wants is in his evil spread sheets, which he salivates over like a hungry wolf. I’m half-surprised Lillard didn’t have a mustache he could twirl.
In contrast, Eastwood, playing aging Atlanta Braves scout Gus Lobel, and John Goodman, playing Eastwood’s boss Pete Klein, are far too old and crotchety to use these newfangled machines we youngsters refer to as “computers.” They scout with their senses and their hearts. In the movie we are told that Eastwood has been responsible for scouting every great player in the Braves organization (including Chipper Jones) in this manner. Eastwood and Goodman (and Timberlake and Adams) are set up to be these baseball saints, wherein they are never responsible for anything bad happening in the organization, are almost always correct on their assumptions, and just generally behave like modern technologies and conveniences (which have largely improved the scouting profession) are the absolute devil.
The biggest problem I have with Trouble with the Curve is how it portrays baseball in general. Characters reference players like Josh Beckett and Alex Rodriguez as if they are the pinnacle of baseball in 2012, when in actuality both probably peaked around 2007. I can’t imagine that kids, while playing sandlot baseball, are touting A-Rod and Beckett as the players they want to grow up to be when players like Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Justin Verlander, and Felix Hernandez are the dynamic young players and current and future baseball superstars. The movie would have us believe that Jair Jurrgens is capable of throwing a no-hitter (he walked one guy, otherwise it would have been a perfect game!). Curve also posits that a young man with obvious baseball skills was never allowed onto any of his high school teams because of poor grades. I don’t seem to recall poor grades ever stopping any athlete ever in the history of American sports, but oh well. Also, Amy Adams is able to scout this young man because she hears the sound of his pitches hitting the catcher’s glove. That’s right, she knows from the sound that he’s a good pitcher.
If Curve gets anything right, it’s how the film portrays potential number one draft pick/would-be future superstar Bo Gentry (Joe Massengil). Gentry is the high school player Eastwood and his associates are scouting, and he is set up to be a Bryce Harper-like prospect with as much attitude and ego as he has talent. This less than flattering portrayal of a potential baseball superstar is refreshing, as we are often presented with an athletes-as-gods perspective from movies and the media in general. The movie somewhat botches even this, however. Curve goes a bit out of its way to denigrate Gentry and his selfish approach to baseball at every opportunity, ultimately humiliating him in front of what should have been a cakewalk media session.
The key relationship in Trouble with the Curve is that between father and daughter, Eastwood and Adams. They go through situations typical to films of this variety. They hate each other, then love each other, then have a falling out, then make up, etc. It’s all incredibly predictable, however well done it might be. Timberlake is there to complicate things and then fall in love with Adams and then have his own falling out after having his heart broken, etc. All the technical stuff and most of the acting is competent in Curve, though it’s nothing we haven’t seen time and time again. I liked the direction and most of the performances (especially Adams), and the setting is pretty interesting. I just wish Trouble with the Curve was better as a baseball movie. I just wish that it didn’t feel the need to demonize the idea of modernizing a game that sorely needs it.