“Trouble with the Curve”
1 hour, 51 minutes
Being an icon certainly comes with a few perks. Take Clint Eastwood. A few weeks ago, all anyone was talking about was a rambling, off-the-cuff monologue that the 82-year-old delivered at the Republican National Convention. The odd, disjointed speech found Clint quipping back and forth to an empty chair, which he pretended contained President Obama. It was kind of funny, but mostly just weird. Now, a lesser figure might have suffered some real fallout from a performance like that. At first, the Dems were sharpening their knives and the Republicans were running for cover, but then Eastwood reminded them all to settle down in that signature gravelly voice that only he, and Christian Bale on the right day, can deliver. “So what? I’m old! I’m an actor! What did they expect?!” was the gist of it. And then everyone remembered, “Oh yeah, I love Clint Eastwood.”
This week they’re remembering why, as the icon turns in yet another top-notch performance playing an old-school baseball scout who believes that instinct and experience trump stats and computers every time. Think of “Trouble with the Curve” as kind of the anti-“Moneyball.”
Eastwood plays Gus, lead scout for the Atlanta Braves, but definitely past his prime. He’s still got a feel for players and for the game, so when his eyesight begins to seriously go, he tells no one. No one, that is, but his tenacious, high-powered lawyer daughter Mickey, and even she had to get it out of Gus’ ophthalmologist first. Mickey, played by the ever excellent Amy Adams, is tough as nails, no-nonsense, and a very picture of her father. Unfortunately, her cool demeanor is not pure emulation, but a defense mechanism brought on by years of neglect by, who else, but our hero, Gus. After his wife died, Gus couldn’t take it, and Mickey spent her childhood bouncing between relatives and boarding school, with brief interludes with Dad. She’s definitely independent, but a bit of a cold fish, and certainly prickly. But, when it becomes obvious that Gus’ job, his life’s work, is on the line should he screw up the scouting of a major draft pick, Mickey decides to go on the road with Gus, not only to help him take stock of a supposed high school phenom, but to hopefully get to know her father as well.
“Trouble with the Curve” is a very straightforward movie, so naturally there’s going to be a love interest. Enter Justin Timberlake as Johnny, a former big-league pitcher, one of Gus’ projects, in fact, who blew out his arm and is now scouting for the Red Sox. Johnny’s on the road to see the same high school hitter that Gus and Mickey are, an obnoxious moose of a boy named Bo Gentry. Johnny, Gus, and Mickey spend the rest of the movie swirling around each other as the various relationships are all worked out — father/daughter, mentor/mentee, lover/loved.
The trouble with “Curve” is that, unlike the title, there’s no variation what-so-ever in the story. It is predictable down to the last detail. When Mickey gets mad at her bosses, and her cell phone is obviously getting in the way of her relationship, she just happens to be walking past an open Dumpster. What do you suppose happens next? Minor characters are introduced, but clumsily, so that it’s incredibly obvious how they will ultimately be used in the story. This all speaks to the main problem with the film, which is that the script is pretty poor. The story itself is fine, if by-the-numbers, but the dialogue is bad, asking the characters to deliver chunks of exposition as if the audience couldn’t keep up with the oh-so-basic plotline, and painting heroes and villains in extremely broad strokes. Matthew Lillard, who plays the young whippersnapper middle-manager who loves computers and thinks Gus is a crusty old fogey, has the unenviable task of declaring “We’re gonna listen to a girl?!?” as a reaction to Mickey’s involvement in helping her dad evaluate Gentry. Because, I suppose, we still think girls know nothing about sports. Is this 2012 or 1952?
So “Trouble with the Curve” is pretty poorly written. Does that mean it’s not a good movie? I guess that’s debatable. But does that mean I didn’t like the movie? Not remotely. I really liked it. Maybe even loved it, and that’s a direct result of some marvelous casting. Eastwood, Adams, and Timberlake hit it out of the park. Yes, they have terrible dialogue to chew on, but in addition to being excellent performers, the three actors are also extremely likeable, a trait that goes a long way toward helping the audience forgive other problems with the film.
Amy Adams is great, and completely believable as an offspring of gruff Gus. She tempers her usual bubbliness, but never appears to be doing a caricature. If only she’d had better lines, this could be a performance she’d be remembered for. As it is, she elevates the entire film. But no one can hold a candle to Clint. Often, Eastwood is criticized for simply playing himself, just grouchier and growlier, and in many scenes, that’s true. But when he decides to turn it on, his performance can be truly heartbreaking. There’s a scene where Gus is visiting the grave of his long-deceased wife to deliver some more obvious exposition and he starts singing a snippet of “You are my Sunshine” to her tombstone. My immediate cynical reaction was, “Oh c’mon. Really?” But I dare you to be dry-eyed by the end of the scene.
“Trouble with the Curve” is a film with serious deficits that almost completely overcomes them with even greater assets. It’s proof that good writing, though important, is not the only ingredient in a successful film. You still need talented and entertaining actors to carry you through. “Trouble with the Curve” may not knock the cover off the ball, but it’s a solid base hit, and enough of those will win the game faster than a single home-run. Grade: B+
“Trouble with the Curve” is rated PG-13 for brief language, sensuality, and brief violence.
Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.