After reviewing Fever Pitch, I was, for lack of a better word, stuck. Part of that was due to my obligations to culinary school. Another part was me not sure which baseball-related movie I should review next. But, if I were being honest with myself, most of it just came down to sheer procrastination. I'd like to believe I'm a better-than-average writer, but I lose focus easily. I lose interest easily about what I'm writing about, and I tend to shelve any writing project I've started on; sometimes they get abandoned altogether. So you might understand why it took this long just to crank out another installment of a series that I just stared last month. This is also why I haven't written anything in over a month for my other blog, Mr. Brown Verses, which I will be returning to this week. For now, I'm reviewing a baseball movie that, frankly, has been a long time coming for both me and the regulars who have been pestering me to see it.
Bull Durham is surprisingly, a film that approaches the game of baseball from the small town, or more specifically, the Minor Leagues, where the stars of tomorrow play today for a chance to be called up to The Show. Ebby "Nuke" LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) is the kid with a million-dollar arm, a fast Porsche 911, and a massive ego. Problem is that he's too erratic, thinks too much on the mound, and too cocky to see past his own faults. How do we know he's full of himself? We first see his character shagging a groupie in the john of the clubhouse! Said groupie gives this scouting report on Ebby: "He fucks like he pitches - sorta all over the place." In order to reign in the hothead, the management of the single-A Durham Bulls brings in "Crash" Davis (Kevin Costner), a 12-year veteran of the minors to teach him how to control his haphazard pitching, and how to foster his talent. Another person is helping him shape and form into a Major League-ready talent: Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), a free-spirit southern Belle who picks out one player from the Bulls to be her lover thought the season, and he goes out to having his best season in the Minor league system. Annie tries to seduce both Eddy and Crash, but he turns down the proposal, leading to one of the most memorable speeches I've seen in any romantic comedy.
This semi-rant from the smalls of a woman's back, to Lee Harvey Oswald and long, slow meaningful wet kisses is just one of the many things I enjoyed and loved about the film. The writing is just excellent across the board, with Ron Shelton, the screenwriter to the movie (he also directs it) really understands exactly how players and managers in ball clubs act, talk and interact with each other. The dialogue sequences when Crash calls for time to put a word in Eddy's ear are often funny and interesting to watch, mostly because it serves to show off the less-than-friendly relationship between two men: one who's trying to swing a big dick, the other trying to teach him how to perform in the Majors. The best of these visits to the mound is actually one where everyone in the infield gets involved, and the conversation ranges from a case of nerves to decapitating a live chicken for one of his players to get his mojo back.
By far the most effective parts of the film, script-wise, is the inner monologue, where players (see Eddy and Crash) try to psych themselves up during each pitch or each plate appearances. Granted, we see more of that from Crash than we do Eddy and it would be very interesting to hear what's going through his mind when getting ready to throw his next pitch, but they are very insightful glimpses into the psyche of a player in the moment of a game. Another nice touch are the quirks players do to get ready for a game, or how they act during streaks, both winning and losing ones.
A script can be good words on a page, but without solid acting to convey the emotion of a scene or bring the words and the story to life, they're just words on a page. And the acting really is terrific. Kevin Costner is terrific as Crash Davis, the washed up, never-been catcher who still harbors dreams of returning to The Show for one last shot at baseball glory, but realizes the season has past him by. He's a non-nonsense, hard-ass with glimmers of regret and "could have been" if things could have worked out in his favor. And Tim Robbins strikes the right balance of charm and cockiness in Eddy. Despite being a stereotypical jock, you still root for his success and (hopefully) learn to appreciate his talent and be grateful for the opportunity he's getting in the process. But the actor who owns Bull Durham is Susan Sarandon as the sexy, seductress Annie. Her opening monologue about religion and baseball describes her character perfectly: she doesn't see herself as a groupie and as the film progresses, we don't either. She's more of a Muse, inspiration for the selected player and she guides them and helps them hone in on their talents, and sex is an added bonus Yet, even though she's mentoring/sleeping with Eddy, she realizes that she's not that interested in him and wants something more long term with Crash It's a performance that's equal parts sexy, funny and vulnerable, and Sarandon knocks it out of the park. Since we're in the throes of Oscar season, allow me to make a comparison: in some ways, Sarandon's Annie reminds me the talented and gorgeous Jennifer Lawrence's character Tiffany Maxwell from David O'Russel's Silver Linings Playbook. Both women are drop-dead gorgeous and have a history of promiscuity attached to their name. Yet both pretty much accept this and allow us to see more of what's going on in their lives, as well as guide the male characters to learn control and discipline. I dare you to watch the scenes where Annie is mentoring Eddy and not see shades of similarities when J-Law's Tiffany is prepping Bradley Cooper's Pat Solitano for the dancing competition.
Bull Durham isn't just a great romantic comedy, or a great baseball movie. It's a great movie, period, and well worthy of being on the American Film Institute's list of the 10 Greatest Sports Movies of all Time.