Director: Daniel Stern
So, every year before baseball starts, I tell myself "I gotta watch The Sandlot and Rookie of the Year", and then, I do not watch them. I've never doubted they're fine movies, but both came out when I was not really watching non-animated kids movies, and baseball wasn't my jam at the time.
But movies were part of my interest in baseball. I loved Field of Dreams and Eight Men Out (you have John Sayles to thank for my interest in the sport). A League of Their Own is one of my "I'll sit and watch this" movies when it comes on TV.
Anyway, I kind of had an idea of what this movie would be - and it was not that. It's actually really funny and goofy in a way that sells the absurd concept, bordering on cartoonishness. In a good way.
The movie has a lot going for it. Star Thomas Ian Nicholas is amazingly charming as a 12 year old who stumbles into some good luck when his broken arm heals funny and he's suddenly able to pitch at 101 mph. He's got a natural "gee whiz" quality that never feels saccharine or like one of those Disney kids doing a bit. And he's surrounded by both a good group of adult actors and kid actors alike supported by a script that knows - this is not a movie that should ever go too dark or too heavy. The movie is here to be a fantasy for kids who love sports: wouldn't it be neat to somehow play in the MLB?
And the movie has to bend space and time, a lot of what you know about how baseball works day-to-day, and more! in order to work. But that's okay. We can have a movie where we can't guess the pitching line-up days in advance. Where we don't need to explain how important a quality closer is, etc... because baseball is way too @#$%ing complicated for the 8 year olds, I suppose.
I was going to be predisposed to liking the movie a little. It takes place on Addison and Clark in Chicago at Wrigley and with the Cubs. Sure, the players are fictional (no one is letting Gary Busey start, even in the 90's for the Cubs) and they've put John Candy in the broadcast booth. Add in Eddie Bracken as the team's daffy older owner and Dan Hedaya as his ne'er-do-well nephew.
But special kudos to actor Amy Morton, who plays the leads' mom - a single mom in an era where that was a commented upon part of the story that wasn't treated with kid gloves. She's hilarious in a way kid movie moms often aren't allowed to be, while also creating what feels like a three-dimensional character in a movie that didn't have to do that. She could have just smiled beatifically while her son excelled, but instead they do a lot more with the charatcer. Anyway - good stuff.*
I actually liked that the movie had some tonal shifts, with director Daniel Stern setting himself up as a buffoonish pitching coach while we also have mom's lame boyfriend being a lowkey dick to our hero. And even on the field we're worried about Busey's arm blowing out, while there's also a guy playing for the Mets clearly referencing the Gas-House Gorillas from a 1940's Bugs Bunny cartoon (and it is great).
Anyway, I think had this been about any team, I would have liked the movie. There's definitely some bonus content if you're a Cubs, fan, tho.
*I didn't know Morton, but she's a wildly successful stage actor who dabbles in film and television