Friday, September 21, 2012

Movie Review: Trouble with the Curve

Article first published as Movie Review: Trouble with the Curve on Blogcritics.

Gus Lobel (Clint Eastwood) is a gritty, old school baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves. Although his successful years and draft choices have made him a well respected authority in his field, as younger people and computer stats take over, Gus’s eyesight and reputation are beginning to fail him. Lobel has one last shot when the Braves’ General Manager (Robert Patrick) sends him to assess a young batter as a number one draft pick.

Lobel’s slightly estranged daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), is made aware of Gus’ issues, but as she is slated to make partner in her law firm any day, she is reluctant to step off the fast track— and onto her proud father’s toes. Mickey’s love for the game and for her father win out eventually and she forces her way onto the scouting trip, making a last-ditch effort to save her father’s career and their flailing relationship.

Along the way, the pair picks up Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake)—a former draft pick of Lobel’s and now a fellow scout. Timberlake’s effortless charm serves him well as Mickey’s smooth-talking love interest, but a romantic chemistry never seems to develop between the characters. In contrast, the friendship between Timberlake and both Eastwood and Adams appears genuine, as if we are accidentally dropping in on their actual conversations. Eastwood’s delivery is unusually spot-on, each hard-ass comeback landing with well-timed accuracy. (Whether this is the result of the editing, the directing, or simply Eastwood, himself, it works—his lines deliver). Adams, as always, lends credibility and charisma to her role, but unfortunately, she does not have much more to work with. The characters in this film develop no further than the personalities and struggles initially presented.
Trouble with the Curve is not a sports movie, but a typical estranged parent-child story in which both seek to learn and overcome the reasons why their relationship doesn’t work. The film contains many amusing scenes and its attractive cinematography keeps the audience immersed in an enjoyable trip. However, the inconsistent tone of the film gives the impression of a romantic comedy that, every once in awhile, seeks to be something more.

Because of the relatively light tone throughout most of the film, sudden injections of hauntingly dramatic moments come across as almost comical. Adding to the problem is the serious lack of backstory, making it difficult to understand characters’ past and present motivations. For example, Gus’ memory about an event in Mickey’s childhood not only seems melodramatic when dropped into the overall pleasing tone of the film, but is also too brief and emotionally downplayed to be seen as an important revelation. It sheds light on Gus’ overreaction in a bar scene earlier in the film, but fails to sufficiently explain his deep seated aversion to ever getting close to his daughter.

Although there are some notable ideas (like Lobel feeling the game so deeply that he recognizes the caliber of a hitter simply by the crack of his bat), others seem to be thrown in for no apparent reason, (such as the song that Gus and Mickey randomly sing that should be an important past link, but turns out to serve no real purpose). Plot point resolutions are either absent (like whether or not Gus will ever deal with his serious degenerative eye condition) or are too conveniently wrapped up, showing us no real path in getting there.

The actors make Trouble with the Curve enjoyable and a pleasure to watch, but a talented cast can only raise a generic film so far. The story attempts to show characters that are taking an introspective look at their life choices. However, with its lack of story and character development, Trouble with the Curve delivers only a shallow version of these important journeys.

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