A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 401 – Bull Durham

Bull Durham – April 5th, 2011

I remember first seeing this movie with Andy some years back and liking it fine, but not being bowled over by it. And I wasn’t sure why at the time. I mean, it had a cast I liked and sure, I don’t like baseball but it, like last night’s movie and The Natural aren’t so much baseball movies as stories using baseball as a vehicle and a theme. So what about it just didn’t sit well with me? And I’ve figured it out. This movie is a romantic comedy. And oh boy am I picky when it comes to romantic comedies.

Now, this movie is not nearly as problematic as crap like What Women Want and that piece of shit called You’ve Got Mail (I really really really hate that movie). And I enjoy it! I enjoy it quite a bit. But there’s something in there that rubs me wrong and it’s a well worn romantic comedy trope. A strong female character is presented and she knows all sorts of things about her area of expertise (baseball, in this case). But through the course of the movie she finds that she doesn’t truly know what she wants in life and love and must be shown what she’s been blind to by a man she first rejects. What softens it here is that Annie doesn’t reject Crash. She’s interested in him, for certain. He just doesn’t want to play around. He wants something either more frivolous or more serious. Compatible in many ways except the way Annie works during baseball season. So I’m a lot more willing to let him have his rom-com smugness than I usually am.

Okay, the line “Why do you get to choose?” still makes me cranky. She gets to choose who she wants to sleep with because it’s her body, jackass – no one says you have to take her up on the offer but you don’t get to choose for her. And in everything else? Annie is awesome. This is the thing about romantic comedies. They often do have a fantastic female character. It’s just that the romance portion seems to need to include the female character learning about love from a man. Shame, that, because Annie seems to have everything else well in hand. She knows her own mind about everything else. She’s well-read, thoughtful and philosophical, but also rational. She knows how the season works. Annie Savoy spots a promising player in the minor league team the Durham Bulls. And if she hooks up with said player and coaches him through the season, he ends up having the season of his career. He gets a lifetime of baseball playing theory and advice and she gets a fun relationship for the duration of the season. And it all works out just fine for her and she’s happy. Until about twenty minutes into the movie. If that.

The movie introduces Crash Davis, a catcher who’s had a chance at the majors and ended up back in Durham, and Ebby “Nuke” LaLoush, a pitcher with a fantastic arm and not a lick of sense. Annie sees them as her best prospects and tells them as much. Crash passes on her offer and so she takes on Nuke for the season. And between Annie’s coaching off the field and Crash’s advice on the field, Nuke ends up having a killer season (when he listens). But of course Annie realizes she doesn’t really want Nuke. Sure, she’s willing to keep going, but it’s no longer enough for her. She wants Crash, and not just for the season. This creates a conflict, since she’s committed to Nuke. Crash wants her, she wants him and Nuke’s there like a big slab of beef wedged between them. As a plot set-up, it’s fun. As are the interactions between all three of them.

There are some fantastic scenes in this movie. I love Annie’s tutoring of Nuke and his dawning realization that hey, people know stuff and maybe he should pay attention. I love how he’s getting strange but useful advice from Annie on how to get his mind in the right place for the game and then practical down-to-earth useful advice from Crash on how to actually play. It’s a great balance and combination of personalities. And then Annie and Crash have some good chemistry. I might not like the smugness, but really, by the time the movie hits its peak they’re both miserable and grouchy because neither of them can have what they want and they’re too far into the season to change anything. It also helps that I like both of them. Crash is, overall, a nice guy. He plays good ball, he gets on well with the rest of the team. Annie’s a nice woman, perhaps a little over-focused on her sexual allure, but hey, she’s hot and she knows it and she uses what she’s got to help players she likes. And she has no shame in it. The movie attaches no guilt or anything of the sort to Annie’s relationships and history, which goes a long way towards making me like it.

Overall, it’s a fun comedic movie with a romance at the center but plenty of stuff surrounding it that make it an a-typical romantic comedy. I love Susan Sarandon as Annie and Tim Robbins really does play a good affable lump, doesn’t he? And much as I dislike the smugness, I think this role is a tossup with Ray Kinsella for Kevin Costner. Both excellent performances from him. It’s a good script, full of quick and clever lines. Sometimes Annie’s voiceover exposition is a little much, but I don’t mind it. It gets sentimental without getting maudlin and in the end I feel like all three main characters got to actually stay who they were to begin with, just in a far better configuration.

April 5, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Bull Durham

April 5, 2011

Bull Durham

Well we’ve reached the end of our short baseball movie marathon. We don’t own any more after these four. I suppose we could have bought Major League but do we really need a Charlie Sheen movie at this point? So with this we’re done with Baseball and can move on to something else.

I’ve loved this movie since I first saw it. I think it was probably the first movie I saw Tim Robbins in, and he’s always fun to watch. Of course it’s another Kevin Costner movie as well, and that’s fun too. But the real star of this movie is Susan Sarandon and she makes the movie great.

In the opening monologue Susan introduces her character, Annie Savoy, who is a new age mystic who worships at the church of baseball. She’s a fan of the minor league Durham Bulls and each season chooses a young man from the line up to spend the season with. This particular year she has narrowed the choices down to two: a wild young pitcher named Ebby Calvin LaLoosh and a wise-in-the-ways-of-baseball catcher named Crash Davis who has been brought in by the management to foster LaLoosh and vet him for the major leagues.

What this movie is is a romantic comedy that takes place in and around a baseball season. We follow the Bulls as they struggle through the year. They loose a lot, they win a few. Truth be told we, as an audience, don’t really care too much if they win or loose because that’s not what the movie is about. It’s about Annie and Crash, who are clearly meant for each other, and the forces keeping them apart. Primary among these forces is their own foolishness in not being able to admit to one another just how much they deserve to be together. Each of them, in their own way, ends up mentoring Ebby “Nuke” Laloosh. Annie through her new age mysticism and Crash through his pragmatic experiences after years of living and breathing baseball.

Annie is a strong, if eccentric, character. I like a woman who’s not afraid to take charge. The problem is that Crash feels he is too mature to play her games and she has her own rules she feels she needs to play by. So they spend the movie dancing around the issue and refusing to acknowledge just how clearly perfect they are for each other. Crash spends a lot of time indulging in a sort of self pity that he can’t have what he wants, and Annie is frustrated that she can’t really have what she wants either. And Nuke? He’s just glad to be there.

As I said before this is Susan Sarandon’s movie. We get brief moments inside Crash’s head and we get to see a lot of him and Annie interacting with the gifted but somewhat thick headed Nuke, but it is Annie’s narration that really sets the mood for the film and keeps it on track. It’s a wistful, slightly desperate mood. This is not a movie about innocent first love – it is a movie about experienced world-weary people who realize that, yes, they deserve some happiness.

I also have to complement writer/director Ron Shelton for his deft use of soundtrack to manage the emotion of the film as well. This movie has a sultry, eclectic, nostalgic and sometimes humorous soundtrack. It works well with the whole sense of who Annie is as a person with her candles and silk cords and mountains of brick-a-brack. Indeed the whole movie feels like an extension of her eccentric personality. Annie is an engaging and beautiful character wonderfully portrayed by a fascinating actress and it was a treat just to be able to spend a little time tonight in her strange but amusing world.

April 5, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment