A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

A League of Their Own

March 3, 2011

A League of Their Own

The second day of our baseball quadruple play is a fantastic contrast to the first. Where The Natural is an mythic tale of epic larger-than-life forces clashing through the game of baseball this movie is an intimate and light hearted film set during a historic time for the sport. This fictionalized re-telling of the creation of the girl’s baseball league could have been heavy handed. It could have been a movie about prejudice and breaking barriers. The characters in the film do have to deal with these issues, but they’re not really what the movie is about, I think, and that makes it a lot easier to watch than it could have been.

The story starts here during World War II when the players in major league all go overseas to fight int he war. Back home the owners decide to put together an all female league to provide baseball while their players are away. This movie follows a few of the members of one of the teams, the Rockford Peaches. Primarily it is the story of two sisters from Oregon, the tall, gorgeous and mature Dottie and her passionate younger sister Kit. Dottie is a born baseball player with unbelievable natural talent but it is her sister Kit who has a true passion for the game. The two of them find themselves recruited to the new all female league where they meet the colorful cast of team-mates with whom they will be playing. There’s the loudmouthed Doris, the sexpot Mae, the less than feminine but strong hitter Marla, and others. The man hired to coach the team is a drunken has-been named Jimmy Dugan, but he can’t be bothered to crawl out of the bottle so the level headed Dottie ends up coaching as well as catching.

The central conflict of the movie is between the two sisters. Kit resents Dottie’s effortless skill and it causes friction between them. Meanwhile the very existence of their league is in peril because the major league owners don’t see the need for these girl players once the boys come home from war. Pretty much the whole rest of the movie is a series of little anecdotes that tell the story of the Peaches, and by extension of the tenuous start of all female major league baseball.

The fun thing about this movie is that it is almost all played for laughs. Penny Marshall has packed the cast with fantastic comedians and there are a lot of moments here that still make me laugh out loud after multiple viewings. In particular Rosie O’Donnell as Doris and Jon Lovitz as the scout Ernie are hilarious. You get the impression that they were given leeway to improvise a lot of their performances, and they bring the movie to life. All of the cast does. Marshall uses a lot of looped and extra dialog to pack extra jokes and punchlines into every scene.

I’m a huge fan of Geena Davis, and this is probably one of her best roles. Dottie is such an effortlessly competent character, so wonderfully in command that it’s simply fun to see her at work. Lori Petty as Kit is all crazy energy, a perfect portrayal of the young woman who is always in her sister’s shadow. David Strathairn portrays what appears to be the only man who believes in the female league, and does so with heart and panache. Of course Tom Hanks is brilliant. This is a less favorable role at first than most he has taken, and it’s interesting to see him play somebody who has so clearly given up on himself. Oh, and yeah, there’s Madona spoofing her own public persona as Mae. Every single role is a home run.

Then there are the bookends to the film which show an aged Dottie in the nineties going to the baseball hall of fame exhibit that features all these girls from the league fifty years later. They lend a bittersweet air of nostalgia to the whole thing. It’s not really specifically about women’s baseball at this point, it’s more a look at how for all of us life moves on. It could be any fiftieth reunion and it would have the same feel – wonder at seeing people you hardly recognise any more and sadness knowing that there are those who you’ll never see again.

This movie does a wonderful job of combining comedy with drama. It takes a deft touch to tell a simple human story about people unexpectedly given a chance to do something they have a passion for but have been prevented from doing professionally and at the same time make it laugh out loud funny and deeply emotional. It looks deceptively simple when you see it on the screen, but this movie is a layered and clever gem that tugs on the heart strings in just the right way.

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April 3, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , ,

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