Trouble with the Curve

Year of Release: 2012     Directed by Robert Lorenz.  Starring Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, and John Goodman.

In case anyone did not already know, Clint Eastwood is old.  And he plays really old, grizzly, run down characters.  The opening scenes of Trouble with the Curve reinforce this well-known fact, as he curses his body as it struggle to use the bathroom and then eats half a can of cold spam for breakfast.  The rest of the film also adheres to the established practices for estranged relationship/sport dramas, albeit with less grossness.

Eastwood plays Gus, a crotchety, old baseball scout, who has been the best in the business for years, but recently has been struggling.  He is in the early stages of glaucoma, which he is reluctant to admit.  He has not signed a new recruit in three years.  He claims this is due to a lack of talent, but his colleagues and boss are wondering whether Gus has lost his ability and if it is time for him to retire.  Over the years, Gus also has neglected his relationship with his daughter Mickey, (Amy Adams) placing his career first, and she is bothering him by showing up when he wants to be alone to do his job.

From Adams’ first scene, it is clear that Mickey is in the same situation as Gus.  She is being evaluated by her board of three superiors, just as he was in the preceding scene.  Both of them are facing promotions or setbacks.  They both have placed their careers first in their lives, and they now struggle to connect with anyone.

Adams plays a hardened, tough as nails character, who is used to caring for herself, similar to her role in The Fighter.  She is every bit Eastwood’s equal, and she even surpasses him, especially with her line delivery, which underscores the subtext and double meanings of the words.  When Mickey repeats one of Gus’ lines back to him, she makes it even more intense and final.  But Adams also captures vulnerability, tenderness, and an occasional longing for a more complete relationship with her father.

This occasional longing is probably her motivation for accompanying Gus on what could be his last scouting trip to North Carolina.  There is another reason, explained later, which also could have prompted her to help her father, but when Mickey leaves her job for a few days to accompany her father, at first it does seem unbelievable given their mutual indifference toward one another.

While in scouting the North Carolina, Gus meets a rival scout and old friend, Johnny, (Justin Timberlake) whom Gus scouted for the Braves years ago.  Although it takes longer than expected, Johnny is eventually the first person with whom Mickey has a meaningful relationship and to whom she reaches out.

Most of the action is fairly predictable.  Almost everything has been done in another baseball movie or an estranged parent/child relationship movie, such as Field of Dreams, The Rookie, or On Golden Pond.  Those movies all handled their drama and conflicts better as well.  Trouble with the Curve has the expected third act setback before the final payoff.  The arrogant jerk from the minors, about whom most baseball scouts are excited, has a serious weakness that will make him a liability in the majors.  Gus’ distance from his daughter was partially caused by outside circumstances, which give the film a sudden dark turn, which is slightly out of place given the lighter tone of the film overall. Gus’ talent passes to his daughter, and she uses it at a crucial moment.

The script does throw a few curveballs, which serve as a decent twist on the otherwise standard proceedings.  The way that Mickey utilizes her father’s talent is unique and unforeseen.  A bit of deus ex machina, while cleverly and subtly foreshadowed, will not be anticipated until it happens.  Gus’ failures as a father have caused more problems than just apathy between him and his daughter.  One conflict is realistically left unresolved, instead of being predictably wrapped up, as the other conflicts were.

Gus’ belief that it takes human interaction and connections to scout a player is validated.  He insists that a computer cannot measure someone’s innate talent, luck, or weaknesses.  There is more to life than just statistics; statistics cannot predict the inevitable curveballs of life.  However, the failure of pure statistics at the film’s end is spectacular enough that is becomes slightly unbelievable, although it is still enjoyable to watch.

The entire film is formulaic, but it has just enough charisma to be enjoyable.  The final act home run may be expected, but that does not make it less of a payoff.  However, the home run only ties the score; it does not quite make up for the fumbles and strikeouts of the early innings.  It is also too perfect and too neat to be a grand slam, but a three-run homer is still a positive way to end the ninth inning.

Content Advisory: Much profanity, some vulgarity, references to sexual activity, and brief but intense violence.                             MPAA rating: PG-13

Suggested Audience: Teens and up with discernment.

Personal Recommendation: B-

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