The Bad News Bears

The Bad News Bears (1976) movie poster

(1976) dir. Michael Ritchie
viewed: 06/05/09

My son just finished his first season of little league the week before and is more into and excited about baseball than he ever has been.  I’d thought of renting The Bad News Bears some time ago, but I remembered it being a bit rough and rangy with language and wasn’t sure how appropriate it would be.  But after the little league, I decided he’d probably enjoy it and so we got it and gave it a go.

The older of the upstairs girls came down, and actually, in watching it, I think it was probably just as well that the younger ones sat this out, watching other stuff on the computer and upstairs.  The film has a lot of unabashed cursing, largely by the 11-year olds and early teenagers that comprise the team.  I mean, that’s the character of the film, their foul-mouthed, down-and-out rejects, with a coach/manager, the terrific Walter Matthau, whose drinking beer spiked wtih liquor in almost every scene.

I know that they made a re-make of the film in 2005, directed by Richard Linklater, and I have to say I’ve been curious, but what comes to mind is that this film just feels a bit more like an unwashed, pre-PC snapshot of kids of the 1970’s, whose cursing and racial epithets are quite representational.  There are definitely things in this film that I don’t think you’d hear in a film or a show unless it was used ironically like it is in South Park (perhaps to a much more pernicious degree).  But the unscrubbed nature of this film is its character and a huge part of its charm.

As for the kids, Samantha was a bit taken aback by the kids and their words and the coach and his drinking.  Felix, on the other hand, laughed and repeated, “Move it, Lard-Ass!”  which was a little worrying.  I think the adult appreciation of the film and its character is perhaps more sophisticated.  It’s a tad shocking at times, but there is a truth to it, a reality, and while it’s very much part of who the characters are, it’s also not done to be outwardly offensive.

The film is well-made, well-developed, and quite funny.  Matthau is hilarious, able to bring in enough W.C. Fields, snark, grouchiness, and charm.  Tatum O’Neal adds a bit of girl power, as the flame-throwing pitcher, daughter of Matthau’s ex-girlfriend.  And the film doesn’t dip too deeply into the mushy emotional issues, but treats them and deals with them enough to give moderate depth to the characters.

It’s brilliant when at the end of the big game, Matthau hands out cans of beer to all the kids.  You see kids drinking and smoking and riding motorcycles.  It’s funny, too, because Jackie Earle Haley, as the bad boy is quite good.  I hadn’t seen one of his childhood films since he made his big comeback in Little Children (2006).

The film is a bit of a classic.  And certainly it spawned two sequels and a tv show.  I don’t know if we’ll go there or not.  The sequels don’t seem to be quite as good as the original.  I probably have seen them, but it’s been a long, long time.

The kids did enjoy it and were asking for more.  I have to say: It’s pretty damn good.

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