‘Trouble with the Curve’ Review
My wife doesn't follow movie news and is impervious to advertising. "What is this, a baseball movie?" she asked as we settled in for 'Trouble with the Curve.' "Kinda," I said. "Clint's a gruff baseball scout, out on the road with his estranged daughter." "Uh-oh," she chimed as the lights dimmed. "Life lessons!"
Life lessons indeed, and they come at you with the subtlety of an aluminum bat cranking a deep line drive. Clint, craggier than ever, begins each day arguing with his prostate, eating junk food and rooting through a stack of papers reporting high school and college score results. "He's the last scout in the majors who doesn't use a computer!" they muse at the Braves' home office. Nasty, conniving Matthew Lillard means it in a bad way, while John Goodman looks fondly upon Clint's old fashioned ways.
Goodman's been Clint's pal long enough to recognize that the old man's health is fading (in this case, his eyesight, but also, you know, his soul) and if he doesn't sign the right people this season he'll be replaced with a Moneyball app. He's able to talk Clint's daughter (Amy Adams) to head out to the grassy fields and cheap motels of North Carolina to "be there for him."
She, of course, is one big case away from being the first woman partner at a stuffy law firm, but with BlackBerry and sharp business suit in tow she heads to the bleachers as her half-blind father chomps a cigar and grunts. The "life on the road" aspect of 'Trouble with the Curve' is the best stuff. The old timers busting each other's chops over dive bar beers or quizzing one another on MLB trivia have a Springsteen-esque quality that goes beyond mere blue collar nostalgia. When newcomer Justin Timberlake comes into the mix, he's an agreeable match for Adams who's wasting her time with a stuffy lawyer and a relationship timeline with projected milemarkers.
You don't need a color commentator to quickly see what has to happen here. Clint needs to let a little love in his heart, Adams needs to stop checking her email and everybody needs a shot of forgiveness with an understanding chaser. Also some late-night skinny dipping. (Okay, just Timberlake and Adams on this last one.) Once the "big talks" are had, the bad guys get their comeuppance and the archly symbolic recurring dream image is explained, there's a tidy loose-ends walk-off.
Despite the film's rote three-up three-down rote formula, tiny genuine moments slip through. Timberlake may be a newbie scout now, but originally he was a pitcher, one Eastwood helped draft, but the modern system of premature trading chewed him up resulting in an early injury. Over beers he talks about his wrecked career, and Clint, thinking of his long dead wife, asks-but-states "it never goes away, does it?" It's a simple moment, but Eastwood, a fine and noble screen icon even in a dud of a picture, can still nail it once in a while.
By the time we get to the third act, Magical Hispanic's slow-motion pitches and swelling music, it's near impossible to keep a straight face. When Clint growls the title of the film as an explanation for passing on a would-be prospect, all hope is gone. But I'm not a monster. Adams is terrific in anything and if you're gonna' have a grouchy curmudgeon dad, may as well go with the best. It's also interesting that within this relationship drama there's a sports movie happening off screen. The star everyone is tracking is having a terrific season, big game and all, though we're watching it with no emotion whatsoever (in fact, we kinda dislike the kid, something of a proto-Kenny Powers.)
As the credits rolled, I asked my wife what she thought. "Curveball? More like 'Cheeseball.'"
'Trouble with the Curve' hits theaters Friday, September 21.
Jordan Hoffman was the movies editor at Hearst Digital’s UGO for four years and currently contributes to SlashFilm, MTV’s NextMovie and StarTrek.com. He’s made two marginally successful independent movies, is a member of the New York Film Critics Online and was named IFC’s Ultimate Film Fanatic of the NorthEast in 2004. Follow him on Twitter at @JHoffman6.