After a harrowing year if disasters and death, my father, in his mid-eighties, is finally coming out of his slump some, so I delighted in the opportunity to have him and my sister join me for a screening of Clint Eastwood’s new film, Trouble with the Curve. Age-wise, Eastwood and my dad fall within a couple of years of each other, so Dad easily related to Eastwood’s character in the film. For the most part, we all enjoyed Trouble with the Curve, but as my dad aptly pointed out, “there just isn’t enough baseball.” In fact, instead of the sports film we expected, Trouble with the Curve, plays out more as romance than a drama.
Eastwood’s Gus, is an aging, old school baseball scout, in a semi-estranged relationship with his daughter, Mickey, after Mickey Mantle (Amy Adams), a driven, up-and-coming lawyer. While Gus clings to instinct and experience, upstart Phillip Sanderson (Matthew Lilliard), challenges the older man’s methods. Sanderson chooses his draft picks using a computer program measuring statistics and is out to see Gus benched for good. Because Gus’s best friend Pete (John Goodman) fights for him, Gus, who discovers his sight is failing, sets out to find the next best thing for the Atlanta Braves. Mickey, worried for her dad and encouraged by Pete, follows her father on the road.
Trouble with the Curve really is three stories in one: a father/daughter relationship in need of repair, a man dealing with inevitable effects aging, and weaving though it all, a love story – between Mickey and a young (former pitcher) scout, Johnny (Justin Timberlake). Perhaps therein lies the problem, director Robert Lorenz (friend and oft’ assistant director to Eastwood) and writer Randy Brown stick safely to pat formulas of each, rather than fleshing out one more clearly or successfully than the other. Dad loves sports and I love baseball (and hockey), so we really did want to see more play out on the field, although, admittedly, the predictable story hardly lends itself to it.
This is Eastwood’s first time on film, in some twenty years, without also being behind the camera, directing. He’s good, but hardly different than other overly crotchety, curt characters he’s played recently. My sister and I got a huge kick out of an early scene where Gus grabs an opened can of SPAM from the fridge and scoops out a fork full grumbling “Mmm, the breakfast of champions.” She and I constantly try to get other father to stop eating SPAM, Vienna sausages and other mystery potted meats. Ick! Eastwood plays Gus with a natural ease and his Gus sheds some light on dear ol’ grumpy Dad. Adams shines, but Timberlake really has the best role and as has become typical, he nails it. When Lorenz and Brown stop trying too hard, laying back a bit and letting their cast play ball, we, too, can enjoy the lightness within the deeper messages, but heavy handedness in thematic hits take the wind out thoughout.
I found Trouble with the Curve pleasant and agreeable enough, but hoped for more oomph. Still Eastwood pleases. Gus is all of us aging, not just eighty-somethings. He exemplifies those of us who love what we do and know it will have to end, whether we go gently or not. I am placing a C+ in my grade book. My dad and I, too, have had our times of estrangement and it felt good to share a decent diversion with him.