director Penny Marshall
I was director Penny Marshall’s movie about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) over 20 years ago when it came out and yet not once since, despite moments of it having moved into the canonical famous film quotes. The story of the inception and inaugural year of a professional women’s baseball league that was organized during World War II is captured with humor and light pathos and a few good performances. It’s funny but I recall leaving the theater thinking that it was pretty good but pretty “saccharine”. That was my word at the time.
It’s true that the framing opening and closing “present day” elements, which included a few of the real actual ballplayers reunited, strikes the most sappy of tones, sentimentalizing hardcore. It is nice to see some of the real women who played in the league because there is an aspect of documenting this fact in popular culture that this league existed. Oddly a documentary might be hued closer to the reality and truth of the events, but a fictionalized version of a film, especially one crafted with a few key iconic moments perhaps establishes knowledge of the league in more comprehensive ways. 20 years out, most people seem to be familiar with this movie and therefor its subject matter.
My kids were not of that group before, but when this movie was recently brought to mind, I thought it would be a good one to watch with them. And I was right. They both enjoyed it. Typically, Clara more than Felix, but both of them. I enjoyed it too, largely.
Geena Davis is good as Dottie, the star of the movie and star of the show. She never looked more beautiful. Lori Petty as her younger sister Kit is apt though kind of annoying, too. Rosie O’Donnell and Madonna as the Brooklynite sass-tossing girls are well-cast and charming in their roles and rapport.
But the real star of the film is Tom Hanks. It’s kind of ironic, really, that with all the women, and that the film is essentially an ensemble picture that Hanks stands out above everyone else. I would say that he is very good, perhaps short of great in the film. Hanks, of course, had worked wonderfully with Marshall a couple of years before in Big (1988), Marshall’s other very good film. Here, playing the sloppy, drunken, washed up Jimmy Dugan, unenthusiastic manager of the Rockford Peaches, he gets the film’s best lines and nails them. “There’s no crying in baseball!” It’s a great line and it’s a great scene. But oddly enough, he’s the one who gets the most satisfying character arc, sobering up and realizing his love for baseball. In a film sort of about female empowerment/historical female disempowerment, I think it’s ironic indeed that the man still gets the best role.
Davis and Petty as farm girl sisters from Oregon with a natural sibling rivalry is a good core for the story, but the development of the nature of their competition and their own story arcs kind of lack something. Dottie is a natural at baseball and a serious looker, but she’s as ambivalent about it as can be. She can take it or leave it and leaves it after one season without looking back. Her sister wants to be better by so much and cares so much for baseball and winning that it drives them apart. But really, Dottie’s ambivalence is the thing that makes it all odd. Makes it feel like something is missing.
Maybe this could have worked out somehow to be more satisfying without changing the core of it, but there is something sort of missing in the film. At least for me.
It’s a charmer and sappy. It’s a baseball movie, and Felix noted, being a baseball movie, he knew how it was all going to end. Well, that’s true. They either win or they lose. One or the other. That’s baseball. It’s funny that with as few baseball movies as we’ve seen that the cliches are already so obvious to him.
Madonna, 20 years ago, is kind of interesting in the film. Her character Mae “All the Way” Mordabito gets many little asides that reference the real life Madonna much more than her character (though these asides are couched as if they are about the character). In 1992, Madonna was at one of the heights of her career and these inside jokes were pretty obvious. As of writing this in 2013, Madonna was just recognized by Forbes as the top grossing celebrity of the present. The kids were surprised by her being in the movie when I pointed her out. Their question: “What does she sing?” She’s largely pretty good in the small role. Captured as film does in a certain point of time. Even as the film tries to catch a different point in time.