It was while going into the Regal Charles Towne Square 18 to see this that it suddenly struck me that this was only the third Clint Eastwood movie I paid money to go see (the others being “A Fistful of Dollars” and “Firefox”). It’s bizarre how this business goes sometimes. Not that I don’t like Eastwood, you understand. It’s just that true film fans will have a tendency to see more films on television than they will in the theater. Putting it another way: I have yet to encounter a case where the opposite is true.
(And while it’s on my mind: a side note for whoever in the Regal Cinema organization is in charge of selecting trailers to precede the films being run in their theaters. One of the reasons I enjoyed “Trouble with the Curve” was because of its wonderful sense of ambiance. Any film which opens with a scene of Clint Eastwood trying to do his morning business in the bathroom generates immediate empathy with This Author. So imagine how that empathy would potentially be mashed by having to sit through a trailer for Judd Apatow’s upcoming film “This is 40”. Two minutes and forty-seven seconds of watching two people whine and overreact to the fact that they’re turning 40. In a supposedly humorous vein, but still whining and overreacting. People . . . I’m 56 years old and arthritic. If you’re turning forty and are looking for sympathy then I suggest you try the next window.)
I’ll say right off the bat that, as a rule, I don’t like sports movies. The whole “win one for the Gipper” or “we’re a group of inner-city juvenile delinquent underdogs but we’re gonna beat the Bigger and Better Team” routine tends to make me rather sleepy. Not only that, but such films have a tendency to attract audiences who haven’t managed to outgrow their high school years. To this day if I see a 40+ year old man still wearing his high school FFA jacket I turn and run.
If I do see a sports movie then it’ll be because the film doesn’t concentrate on things such as yardage or what down it is. It’ll be like “Trouble Along the Way”, “Chariots of Fire”, “Pat and Mike” or “A League of Their Own”. Films where the emphasis is on the characters rather than on the game they’re involved in. Everything I saw and read about Robert Lorenz’s “Trouble with the Curve” told me that this would be that sort of film.
And what can I say? I was right. Sometimes, pumpkins, the Good Lord throws Uncle Mikey a bone.
Here we have Eastwood playing Gus Lobel: a veteran baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves. How veteran? Well pumpkins, let me put it this way. If Eastwood’s character was a horse then his owners would be considering shooting him. For that matter they might as well pull the trigger as the Braves management is leaning towards dropping him like a bad habit. His only steady ally within the organization is his best friend (played by John Goodman).
Eastwood, praise God, is playing his age throughout the film. Rather personal analysis leads me to suspect that he’s in probably much better shape than some Film Critics I could immediately mention, but that doesn’t stop him from taking on roles which require him to portray people who’re steadily breaking down in departments such as eyesight, hearing and (as intimated earlier) plumbing. Other than that he is still the same wry and crotchety individual who once asked for three coffins.
(Oops. My mistake . . . four coffins.)
A lot of the baggage his character is carrying isn’t all physical. He’s a widower (nice little scene of him at his wife’s grave, singing “You Are My Sunshine”) and has rather odd dreams concerning a horse which tend to prickle his waking personality. The latter conditions tends to manifest itself mainly around his grown daughter Mickey. Played by Amy Adams (far more interesting than she was in “Julie & Julia”), Mickey is a lawyer who is so driven she gives the impression she drinks gasoline. Early on she remarks how she had not taken a Saturday off in seven years (the revelation sending a very noticeable shudder through This Correspondent) and she does a wonderful job of portraying one of those people who’re legally married to a cell phone. Watching Adams in this film makes me feel better about the prospect of her being Lois Lane in the upcoming “Man of Steel”.
The more watchable parts of “Trouble with the Curve” involve the growing relationship between Gus and Mickey. With her father’s eyesight deteriorating, Mickey feels obligated to take some time off from her work and tag along with Gus during a scouting trip into the Carolinas. This is soon revealed as being something of a subterfuge. Having been shuffled around after losing her mother, Mickey wonders why her father seemingly abandoned her at an early age, and Gus is reluctant to go into details. Adams has to convince the audience that she can be just as determined as Eastwood, setting up a character vs. character situation. Here I’m giving her an A-.
There has been, to my way of thinking, a great deal of foolishness written about Justin Timberlake’s appearance in this film. Whereas I wouldn’t automatically suggest him for the role of Willy Loman or Richard III, Timberlake hasn’t quite justified all the poison being heaped on him. Truth be told (and this may be damning with faint praise), I really can’t figure out why he’s in the film at all. Timberlake plays Johnny Flanagan: a baseball player who’s fallen on difficult times (think of Bill Pullman in “Rocket Gibraltar”) and is working on scouting while trying to line up a better job. Randy Brown’s story offers enough as it is with the Eastwood/Adams one-on-one, and Timberlake’s character seems to have been added on as an afterthought. Someone for Adams’ character to become romantically linked with.
(” . . . and then the exhibitors and critics all say, ‘If this picture had a love interest, it would gross twice as much’.”)
Timberlake isn’t really required to do more than deliver a brisk quip or two, plus skinny-dip with Adams (pity the working stiff), and he manages this adequately enough. A producer with a firm hand could’ve simply written the character entirely out of the script and still could’ve had a whole movie.
As for the other players in this little drama, Joe Massingill plays Bo Gentry: an up-and-coming minor leaguer possessing the sort of smarmy personality that’s made me avoid sports as much as possible in the first place. And, as if he needed any help in the role (which he didn’t), “Trouble with the Curve” also has Robert Patrick as Eastwood’s chief rival in the Braves organization (the sort of person you’d find in the dictionary next to the definition “slimy little worm”). On the more sympathetic side there’s the aforementioned John Goodman, who seems to have been born with the ability to play close and supportive friends.
The overall story of the film is best described as “light drama” (with Justin Timberlake pasted on), and, whereas it isn’t going to bring Eastwood as much accolades as “Gran Torino” or “Million Dollar Baby”, it is still a pleasant way to waste a few hours. As his first full director job (he’d assisted on quite a few Eastwood films), Robert Lorenz does a fairly decent job. I’m not seeing any Oscar statuettes (or even nominations) with “Trouble with the Curve”, but I had a nice few hours watching it, and I’d daresay most other people would share the opinion.
Rather nice Movie!