Take Me Out To The Ball Game
It's been some time since Clint Eastwood was last seen in front of the camera in a film that he didn't have directorial responsibilities for. Known for the minimalist way in making his films, here his credits lie in producing, and focusing his energies on portraying the grumpy old man that his character Gus is, putting in a memorable performance which had Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake and John Goodman being able sparring partners to bring out the brilliance in Trouble with the Curve's characterization, set against the backdrop of the US Major League baseball drafting season.
It's OK if you don't have any clue about the game, because it's not a prerequisite to enjoying the movie. You just need to know the basics of the batter needing to connect with the pitcher's ball, as the film's game focus hinges on the promising young player Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), who seems to be living up to the promise that got every club excited and talking about, save for Gus who needed to take a second, closer look as a baseball scout making recommendations for his club on who to sign when they're down the pecking order of say, the Boston Red Sox. It's old school versus new school that fantasy sports game players will find familiar, where players' statistics on a computer try to become the de facto method on player selection, trying hard to substitute the actual getting out there to closely scrutinize a player over a period of time over a series of games against a myriad of opposition.
Game aside, Trouble with the Curve, written by Randy Brown, is actually a father-daughter story, about the paths taken by either party on a route to reconciliation and reconnection, and this forms the emotional centre that is so powerful given its relevance as well to today's society. We feel that our aged parents are often too backward in today's society, and given their age, eventually we'd feel a moral sense of obligation and responsibility to live up to when they need our help, especially when a medical condition sets in. This may also mean taking some sabbatical from work, or trying hard to multi-task work-life issues, staying connected through modern technology, and plainly just juggle through life, work and personal expectations all thrown in the same direction. This is something anyone today can identify with, and one of the key aspects in the film that you'll connect and gravitate to.
For Gus, as a scout, having to slowly lose his sight means not being able to keenly observe the players he needs to for a recommendation. It's like a musician losing his hearing, or a chef losing his sense of taste. Being a stubborn man, much against good advice from everyone such as good friend and colleague Pete Klein (John Goodman), he sticks to his own ways, until Pete had to persuade Gus' hotshot lawyer daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) to spend some quality time with Gus just so that she can, in a way, take care of him and render assistance. After all, being brought up in the game, she's no pushover when it comes to any aspect of baseball.
The story arcs expand to include Mickey's own demons of being emotionally unavailable since she's married to her job, and on the verge of being made partner for the hard work and hours put into the firm. It's easy to pin the blame of being brought up without a parent and thinking economic and personal success is the only key to acceptance, and perhaps nail down the treatment of modern day relationships where people can be physically together, but not connecting on an emotional level. Justin Timberlake stars as the obvious game changer to Mickey as Johnny, a one time red hot pitcher until an injury permanently ruled him out of the game. Now trying his luck as a scout / punter wannabe, he too reconnects with Gus, given that the latter had scouted him before, and some of the best scenes in the movie consist of a combination of any of the trio, if not all of them, sharing the screen together.
Randy Brown's story is sharp and full of subtle humour, self-deprecating at times, which suits Eastwood's style really well, since he flits his voice from edgy to whispers, or getting it just right through grunts of disapproval. It's remarkable for his age that Eastwood is still very much involved in filmmaking and acting, producing a fantastic filmography in recent years, and like wine, is vintage with age. I blame Man of Steel that kept me thinking how Amy Adams would be like as Lois Lane here, since her character is truly a go-getter in the corporate world, while Justin Timberlake just showed that he's growing from strength to strength as a serious actor despite actually coming into the limelight as part of a 90s boy band. Those of us old enough to remember Robert Patrick will see him in new light here as a slimy baseball club executive who thinks he's too smart for others, while John Goodman rounds up the ensemble cast that's full of gravitas for this drama to work.
The ending might be a little bit of a fairy tale, but I suppose this is the season for feel good movies to come light that little hope at the end of the tunnel. It deals with the feeling of having some good shine out of what may seem like a hopeless, lose-lose situation the characters find themselves in, so some may fault it for its convenient wrap. Still, I'd highly recommend it for its all round good performances that brought out the realities and challenges in relationships of today.