Movie Still Plays Well, On And Off The Field
Movie #7: A League of Their Own (1992)
Director: Penny Marshall
This falls into the “I can’t believe you haven’t seen this before!” category. Somehow I managed to miss Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own on release, and was never motivated enough to watch it at home – until now. I suspect there was a little snobbery involved. I tend to be harder on what I perceive to be “chick flicks”, which too often talk down to women. But in this case, I most heartily repent. A League of Their Own is an unapologetically accessible film, with an inspiring premise, attractive cast and predictable outcome – but that’s not really criticism. It’s a very polished commercial effort, and when actual veterans of the All-American Girls Baseball League appear late in the movie, the lump in my throat seemed well-earned.
Penny Marshall had directed Tom Hanks before, in Big. That role is Tom Hanks at his cuddliest. Here he’s at his exasperated best as an alcoholic, crusty ex-ballplayer turned reluctant manager. The scene in which he berates a player for her poor play and then for crying is well known, and the line, “There’s no crying in baseball!” has entered the cultural consciousness (How much so? I heard it on NPR this morning in a story on trauma nursing). But Hanks is equally funny in a later scene when, enraged by the same player, he silently grimaces and shakes with frustration – and then forces himself to give her gentle, constructive criticism.
Geena Davis, as Dottie Hinson, plays a level headed star player – essentially serving as the “straight man” for the other actresses in the movie – most memorably Rosie O’Donnell as tough talking Doris, and Madonna as her best friend, Mae, who is a player in more than one sense (“My name’s Mae, and that’s more than a name. It’s an attitude.”) Lots of other 80s and 90s stalwarts show up in small roles – Jon Lovitz, Garry Marshall, Bill Pullman, David Strathairn. I found the sibling rivalry subplot (with Lori Petty as Dottie’s always-in-the-shadows little sister) a bit tedious, but it set up the conflict necessary for the movie’s big ending.
Marshall has fun with the sexism of the era, but this isn’t a message movie – except for sending the message that women can be great athletes, worthy of watching. Making that convincing required that the actresses in the film train for hours a day, months on end – but it was well worth the time since the games looks so authentic. I’m not a baseball fan (I know, I know, and in Cardinals country, too!) – but even I enjoyed watching the skill and athleticism in A League of Their Own.
Bonus Pick: Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)
Director: Susan Seidelman
It’s a Madonna two-fer today! I saw Desperately Seeking Susanlong, long ago; when it’s soundtrack and fashion sense still seemed fresh, when Madonna was young, playful and unpredictable. I saw it so long ago, in fact, that my memories of the movie are quite fuzzy. What I do remember is how charmed I was by this screwball comedy about a housewife, Roberta (Rosanna Arquette), who becomes fascinated by Susan, a free spirited young club girl (Madonna). It also features a very young, very appealing Aidan Quinn and a supporting cast full of people you know by face, if not by name (Robert Joy, Will Patton, Mark Blum, Laurie Metcalf). Desperately Seeking Susan is a bright, dizzy caper set in the New York’s punk underground, the whole thing as stylishly disheveled as the thrift store clothes worn by its characters. It’s very much of its time, this movie. If you are old enough to remember 1985, as I am, it may make you ache with nostalgia.