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Trouble with the Curve (2012) - Does it hold up?

John Goodman is in this film. This is the last time he will be mentioned.

Clint Eastwood standing in front a poster for Trouble with the Curve Photo by Jeffrey Mayer/WireImage

Trouble with the Curve is not the worst movie I’ve watched for this series. Unfortunately, it’s much further from being the best than the worst. The movie doesn’t understand baseball any better than its hackneyed information-age antagonist, Phillip Sanderson (Matthew Lillard). That’s not unusual for a baseball movie; sadly, it also failed to understand such concepts as “people” and “being reasonable” either.

What is baseball?

The movie wants to present its central conflict as the old men who understand baseball in their bones versus the young guys who think that numbers are all that matter. This, of course, is a strawman argument from the get-go. I doubt there are many, if any, analytics guys out there insisting that there is no value in physically going out and watching players. Among other things, we don’t know how much importance there is to clubhouse chemistry because it’s hard to measure, but we do know it matters at least a little. That’s why real scouts will usually talk to the players they’re considering drafting, too, not just watch them play. If Gus (Clint Eastwood) had spent a few minutes talking to Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), he would have had an even stronger argument against drafting him because his head clearly wasn’t where it needed to be for him to learn and progress through the minors rapidly.

There’s also the issue that most of the advanced analytics used today aren’t available for high school players in the same way they are for major league players; even if you wanted to rely entirely on the numbers, the numbers just aren’t there to tell the whole story. If the analytics were there for high school baseball players in the way this movie pretends, then they would have shown Bo’s inability to hit a curveball the same as Gus’ ear and Mickey’s (Amy Adams) eyes. Finally, of course, a lot of high school hitting prospects have trouble with the curveball. That’s why teams employ hitting coaches; if Bo’s only problem had been his inability to hit a curveball, that wouldn’t have necessarily precluded drafting him pretty high.

There are plenty of ways the movie misunderstands baseball besides that, though. Early in the movie, Gus complains when he’s sent to scout Bo that the team needs a pitcher more than a hitter. Any baseball scout worth anything knows that by the time a player is ready for the big leagues, the situation is likely to have changed entirely. Much ado is made at the beginning of the film that the last prospect scouted by Gus is currently not hitting in the minor leagues. Gus decides the kid needs his family to visit and has the team arrange it. Somehow this works. Even more astonishing than that working is that Phillip tries to argue about the trip’s cost against the team’s bottom line. Considering all the other costs involved in developing a prospect, the cost of paying for a family to travel for a few days is entirely meaningless, and anyone who made it as high in the front office as Phillip should be highly aware of that. Don’t forget Gus scouts the Carolinas for Atlanta, so the maximum cost is even lower than you might be imagining. I’m pretty sure if a big-league team could guarantee that any prospect would hit .400 on the regular with a family visit or two, they’d have every kid’s family visit all the time.

What are people?

When the movie isn’t baseballing, it’s peopling. It’s generally considered good form for a movie to people. Outside big blockbusters with impressive special effects - and sometimes even then - audiences like to see people peopling in their movies. Peopling, if you can’t figure out what the heck I’m talking about, is people doing things that people do. In movies, this mostly means having relationships. The two significant relationships in this movie are the one between Mickey and her father, Gus, and the budding romance between Mickey and Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake.)

Johnny is a scout for the Red Sox after a playing career that didn’t last as long as it might have because he blew his arm out. Johnny is hoping to parlay this scouting job into a career as a broadcaster. It’s never made entirely clear why he thinks he’s going to be able to make the leap from scout to broadcaster, but he’s convinced all the same. Johnny also falls head over heels for Mickey the moment he sees her for the first time.

Oh, right, and Johnny is a creep.

Timberlake is a charismatic (if not otherwise talented) actor, so he almost pulls this off. But, yeah, Johnny is kind of an awful dude, and I fail to see why anyone would ever root for him. I present the evidence, your honors:

  • We first see Johnny when he pulls up to a random game between kids in a field. He does not greet them; he just sits on his car and starts shouting play-by-play and creeping them out.
  • Johnny’s first interaction with Mickey is an attempt to simultaneously save her from the unwanted advances of another man and prevent Gus from stabbing the guy with a broken beer bottle. He chooses to do this by grabbing Mickey around the waist and planting an unwanted kiss on her while proclaiming she is his sister to the would-be-molester.
  • He generally tries way too hard to get her to notice him. He also spends an evening at the bar talking to Gus about seemingly only one subject, Mickey.
  • One of Johnny’s final interactions with Mickey involves attempting to kiss her while she’s emotionally vulnerable. He initially accepts when she says no, but moments later, he strips to his boxers and jumps in a pond. He then coaxes her into stripping and following him into the water. Once she’s in the water, he maneuvers in such a way as to get that kiss he was seeking earlier. Sure, she seems to want it now, but this is an excellent example of why people should be seeking “enthusiastic consent” and not just any kind of yes. With that much cajoling involved, can you really be sure she wanted it? And if you can’t be really sure, how can you go for it in good faith?
  • The following day he accuses her of lying to him (because Gus inexplicably clued him in on Gentry’s weakness) and drives away in a huff. The next time we see him, he shows up at Turner Field and offers her not a single apology for all of his bad behavior.

Mickey’s done pretty poorly by her father, too. Every time she tries to talk to him, he deflects, avoids, or gets angry. Everyone around her pretty much says, “That’s just his way. You just have to accept it.” Which, no, she doesn’t. When he finally comes clean to her about why he sent her to live with her uncle when she was six, the movie acts as if he’s come clean and all is well now. But, actually, no, that’s not good enough. Why did he leave her again at 13? Why didn’t he ever call or write or visit even when she was living elsewhere? He owes her more than that.

You might be getting ready to argue that some people are that way, and they never change. And that’s true! And that’s not an unreasonable path for a character to follow; however, the movie’s framing doesn’t need to give him a pass for his awful behavior.

What is a reasonable ending?

As I watched the end of this movie, I was struck by the similarities to two other movies: The Return of The King and The Natural. Trouble with the Curve isn’t content to have one ending, it wanted to have several, and it wanted them all to be the perfect ending. The other movies share this flaw; when the story just starts dumping loads of exposition at the end to make sure everyone gets their perfect ending, it strains the credulity and patience of the audience.

As the climax begins, it seems as though Mickey and Gus may have had a breakthrough. Still, their relationship will always be strained. Elsewhere, things aren’t necessarily going great, either. Gus will be “allowed to retire.” Johnny will not get his dream job or the girl. Mickey will not get her dream job or the guy. Bo and Phillip will both go their merry ways with no punishment for their inability to hit a curveball or unwillingness to watch a baseball game in person, respectively. That’s when the ludicrous series of events begins:

  • Mickey, while packing up her stuff to leave, hears Rigo (Jay Galloway) pitching outside. She can tell he’s a fantastic pitcher just by the way the ball pops into the glove.
  • Mickey convinces the team to give him a tryout, but not just any tryout. He throws pitches to the newly signed Bo Gentry. Bo cannot hit them. This somehow simultaneously proves that Mickey was right that Rigo can pitch and that Gus was right that Bo can’t hit.
  • Gus finally says something nice about Mickey where she can hear it and gives her a new career choice: sports agent. Because all lawyering is the same.
  • General Manager Vince (Robert Patrick) goes from trying to convince Gus that retirement won’t be so bad to offering a metaphorical blank check to keep his services.
  • Phillip makes a handful of stupid remarks in a row. He gets fired.
  • On her way out of the park, Mickey gets a text message from her job; the jerk who stole her opportunity to achieve partner at her law firm fell on his face during an important presentation. They now want her to be the new partner again.
  • As they leave the park, Johnny shows up, and he still wants to be with Mickey.

It’s just too good to be true. It’s not enough that Mickey and Gus seem like they’re going to end up back on their feet. The movie just keeps piling on good news after good news. At first, it was kind of heartwarming to see them pull out some wins after all the strife of the movie. As the ending kept going on and on, however, I just started laughing at the silliness of trying to convince an audience that all of these great things could happen at once without the interference of someone in control. Which reminds the audience that someone is in control; the writers. That’s a bad thing; writers are like the Wizard of Oz: if you’re looking behind the curtain, they’re in trouble.

There were some other things about the movie I just didn’t like, too. Clint Eastwood may be the right age for the role, but he sounds like he’s doing an awful Christian Bale-as-Batman voice. There was a whole subplot with Mickey’s sort-of boyfriend who wanted her to commit that lasted two scenes but whacked the audience over the head with a two-by-four with Mickey’s commitment issues. The movie acts as if Mickey would have been a bad person for not sacrificing her career to babysit her dad. Mickey brags about working on Saturdays and generally being a workaholic several times; the movie’s framing acts as if this is either a good thing or bad only because it means she doesn’t have a boyfriend. The scene when Mickey whacks a pitch from her father is very obviously CGI; considering how little it adds to the movie, it seems like it would have been better just to cut it. Mickey throws her phone away when she gets the text message about potentially becoming a partner after all.

Seriously. If you have ever known someone to just throw their phone in the trash or out the window in a fit of emotion, I want to hear about it. What could possibly drive you to decide that tossing a computer worth several hundred dollars, containing unique data, and likely your best or only contact with several important people is a good idea? I’ve never once considered it, and even if money is no object, the other factors seem like they’d preclude people from doing so, as well. Still, it’s alarmingly common for characters in tv shows and movies to destroy or throw away cell phones with no hesitation.

Anyway, Trouble with the Curve doesn’t hold up, and I can’t honestly believe it was ever a good movie, to begin with. A quick glance at Rotten Tomatoes confirms for me that most people agree with me. If you’re looking for a baseball-themed relationship drama that takes only the shallowest takes of the baseball and the relationships, this movie won’t disappoint you too much. If you want anything else out of a film, look elsewhere.