Susan Boyle Eat Your Heart Out
In Million Dollar Arm, JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) plays a down on his luck sport agent looking to sign the next big sports star. It turns out that JB and his business partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi) must find an untapped sports market in order to save their agency from bankruptcy. It isn’t long before JB heads to India to have thousands of cricket players compete in the Million Dollar Arm competition. After weeks of no real potential, Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) show that they just might have what it takes to become the next baseball superstars.
When I first saw the poster and heard about Million Dollar Arm, I must admit I had very little desire to see it. I thought the film was going to be another one of your standard run-of-the-mill sport stories but luckily there is a bit more to Million Dollar Arm than just that. Yes, there is no denying that the story in Million Dollar Arm is very formulaic and predictable, however, the performances and comedic moments really make the film into something more than what you are expecting it to be from the trailers.
While I do fully believe that Jon Hamm was good in the lead role, I must admit that any handsome actor could have played this character. JB is the typical down on his luck guy. You know, the type of guy that is struggling with all aspects of life. Without spoiling too much, JB isn’t doing well in his career and his love life is like a rotating door of Supermodels that never leads to anything other than one night of sex. This character is very much a cliché and you will know exactly how his story is going to play out from the very beginning.
About 10 minutes into Million Dollar Arm, Lake Bell shows up as Brenda. At first, I thought Thomas McCarthy added Brenda into the film simply to create a romantic subplot, however, I am happy to report that the Brenda story is actually real. Bell absolutely shines as Brenda and brings a lot to the film besides being a romantic interest for JB. As Brenda, Bell showcases a strong-will and is independent. Unlike so many films that try to show women as being empowering, I found Brenda to be much stronger of a character than JB. I think the way that Bell portrayed Brenda was a perfect way to offset JB’s personality and lifestyle. Needless to say, Bell’s presence really added to the film and gave audience members someone that they could relate to.
Now, even though Brenda added a lot to the film, it wasn’t until Suraj Sharma (Life of Pi) and Madhur Mittal (Slumdog Millionaire) become a part of the story that the film really shines. At this point, Million Dollar Arm becomes much more than your typical down on his luck guy looking for his next big break. Rinku and Dinesh create an emotion connection that I feel most audiences will grab onto. There is no denying that Rinku and Dinesh are underdogs, but unlike so many other films, these underdogs are a bit different. Their story is conveyed in a way that showcases Rinku and Dinesh’s baseball dreams would be non-existent before JB entered their lives. It’s like JB created this dream for them and that is where I think the film differs from other stories about undiscovered talent.
There are also plenty of other characters sprinkled throughout Million Dollar Arm that add to the film and produce some of the film’s funniest and most heartfelt moments. There are multiple scenes featuring Alan Arkin‘s character Ray. Most of his scenes involve him sleeping during the scouting process in India, however, they are pretty comical. The other stand out performance is from Pitobash who plays Amit, an Indian that dreams of being a baseball coach. Amit for most of the film serves as the plucky comic relief, but he is also carries what I felt was the film’s most emotional scene. I think the casting was pretty spot on with this film and outside of Hamm, I think everyone played the role and made it their own.
As for McCarthy’s screenplay, it definitely uses quite a few “fish out of water” jokes to move the story along. These scenes are often pretty cheesy, however, they fit the film’s overall family friendly tone. There are many moments that will have viewers smiling with delight including a scene where Rinku eats pizza for the first time and claims, “I love pizza.” Million Dollar Arm is a Disney film after all so there are plenty of feel good moments that work, however, whenever conflict occurs, the film feels watered down and hurts it from being as powerful as it could be.
There are multiple moments in Million Dollar Arm where conflict occurs and it is handled in a way that was too simplistic for its own good. All the conflicts are so family friendly that they seem unrealistic. There is one scene involving Brenda and JB fighting that really stood out. Any adult watching this scene knows that in real life, Brenda would call him “an asshole” and would result in a much larger conflict. However, because it’s Disney and rated PG that moment becomes almost like two 10 year old’s fighting with one another calling each others jerks on the playground. There are plenty of moments like this throughout the film where I feel a PG-13 rating would have given the film a bit more of a realistic edge. I honestly believe this would have greatly improved the film’s overall tone.
All in all, I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed Million Dollar Arm. Its not a game changer by any means, but it is definitely a lot better than your standard feel good sports story. I think Craig Gillespie really got a lot out of these actors and his direction was pretty solid all around. I particularly loved the scenic shots in India and felt he did a great job showcasing the difference of the two world’s without making it seem like a third world country. The film did have some weak moments but that could be the incorporation of making this into a family film. If you are are fan of feel good films or enjoy a a good underdog story, I think you will be pleasantly surprised by what Million Dollar Arm has to offer.
MovieManMenzel’s final rating for Million Dollar Arm is a 7.5 out of 10.