I don’t know if this is true but I heard it’s good luck for movie critics to start a year with a Clint Eastwood review. So I saved TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE for the occasion.
It’s a pretty standard mainstream feel-good-about-everything-at-the-end father-daughter relationship drama, but I couldn’t resist it because Clint plays the stubborn old grump dad and Amy Adams plays the daughter. She’s pissed off and sarcastic through half the movie but I’m still powerless in the face of her charms. I’m sorry.
Here’s the situation: Gus (Clint) is a veteran scout for the Braves baseball team, sent to evaluate some young hot shot out in North Carolina (Scott Eastwood). But Gus is secretly losing his eyesight and openly losing favor in the organization to a young douchebag (Matthew Lillard) who prefers modern methods involving computers and statistics. Gus’s best friend (John Goodman with an impressive mustache) worries they’re gonna drop him if something goes wrong, so he begs Gus’s estranged lawyer daughter Mickey (Adams) to come keep an eye on him. Meanwhile, a young pitching-phenom-turned-scout who Gus likes (Justin Timberlake) helps out and tries to woo Mickey.
Gus and the other old guys (including Ed Lauter of DEATH WISH 3 and THE ARTIST) just sit in the bleachers watching minor league games. Sometimes Mickey has to fill in for his eyes. Then they go to a bar at night. Mickey helps with the scouting while constantly checking phone and laptop to prepare a big presentation, prevent a potential coup at the firm and pacify an annoying boyfriend back home. Meanwhile, her main goal is to try to talk to her dad about how him not being around when she was a kid has damaged her, but he reacts to the idea of talking about emotions with abject terror, his eyes getting big like Clint’s normally might when he realizes who the killer is or something.
Clint didn’t direct this, but did it as a favor to rookie director Robert Lorenz, an assistant director to Eastwood since BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY and producer at Malpaso since BLOOD WORK. This is a Malpaso production, with some of Clint’s usual collaborators: cinematographer Tom Stern, editors Joel Cox and Gary Roach, production designer James J. Murakami, etc. And there’s a nice scene where Adams and Timberlake dance to a street musician playing blues guitar that could’ve been in a Clint directorial work. So in many ways it reminds you of his movies, but I think he likes grey area and nuance, two big things mostly missing in this script by first-timer Randy Brown.
Lots of on the nose here. Mickey has expository dialogue about what her job is and how she was raised, she reveals her baseball knowledge through a baseball trivia challenge. Her oppressive job of course has to be at a law firm, because we all hate lawyers, and they wear suits, not baseball hats. They sit in offices, not out in the sun. I always enjoy an anti-everybody-doing-shit-on-their-phones-all-the-time message, but the way they use that to constantly show Mickey’s workaholicism or whatever is pretty over-the-top.
They also do that thing where Gus teases Mickey about being vegan, and then out of the blue she just starts eating hot dogs to show that she cool again. It’s weird how to screenwriters something like that can only be used as a symbol of uptightness and not ever as an actual conviction that an intelligent person could truly believe in. I guess we’ll have to wait until the prestigious WWE Films decides to make a MARINE sequel starring Daniel Bryan. (He’s a wrestler who’s a vegan which I know because he’s from Aberdeen, Washington and I read an article about him.)
The scouting prospect is an egomaniacal asshole so we won’t feel bad about what happens to him. He even gets a bully comeuppance from a minor character who turns out to be important. Mickey’s boyfriend and Lillard’s character are also treated as bad guys instead of complicated humans. For Lillard they even throw in a last minute sexist comment, when he’s trying to shoot down Gus’s scouting report and makes fun of him basing it partly on “what your daughter, a girl, saw.”
And there are alot of the cliches, such as the one where the boy says “Come on,” and the girl says “Where are we going?” and he says “You’ll figure it out when we get there,” and through the magic of editing we believe that they really drove out to the lake without further discussing where they were going and then they go night-swimming together in their underwear and it’s spontaneous and romantic.
At the end I sat and listed in my head everything that worked out well for each character’s profession, their relationships and their personal happiness, and it was clear it was laying it on a little thick. It could almost be one of those Adam Sandler movies where they want to give every character a little happy ending even though they know it’s ridiculous.
I know some of these things work to make it a crowdpleaser, and they kinda work on me even, but more complex would be a better movie. Clint looks for more humanity. When he takes shotcuts like that they stick out, like the unpopular Hilary Swank’s Despicable Family scene in MILLION DOLLAR BABY.
Therefore, it’s all up to the cast to make you like it, and this is a damn likable cast. Gus is a more socially respectable version of Walter from GRAN TORINO. He does the growling and comedic unfriendliness and everything. Right at the beginning he gets in a fight with a coffee table and calls it a bitch. He never uses guns, but pulls a broken beer bottle on a guy.
Adams, as I implied, is adorable even when she’s a mess, but I don’t mean that to be demeaning. She’s a really good actress, does most of the actual acting here, and most of the emotion. She has some very effective moments. It should be noted though that Clint also cries in a scene, and it’s pretty powerful to see a shell like that crack.
Between those two we really don’t need a third likable co-star, but Timberlake gets to swoop in and just be a nice guy who tries to make Mickey laugh when she’s upset, and he’s good at that. They have a good chemistry.
And I don’t want to be completely down on the script. I’d prefer more subtlety, but it’s a good yarn. I like the part where the scouts are arguing about Ice Cube’s acting career. And Gus has a good cold-hearted snipe at his daughter: “I’ve got half a beer back at the bar that won’t argue with me.” Never use that one on your daughter or old lady, fellas.
It’s amusing to compare this to MONEYBALL, which had as the underdog a younger guy who uses statistics and math for scouting, and is right, but gets shut out by the stuck-in-their-ways old timers. And he’s an asshole too, seems to enjoy firing people, but because he’s proven correct about how to put together a good baseball team he’s the good guy. TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE – which unlike MONEYBALL has no basis in a true story – is the reverse. Brad Pitt becomes Lillard, the young asshole with the computer, the one who’s out of touch because he doesn’t use the old ways, he just looks at numbers, doesn’t go to the games and listen to the sound of the pitches. MONEYBALL uses the advanced age and the hearing aids of the scouts a joke, this movie respects its olders and their presumed experience and wisdom. MONEYBALL argued that they had to stop listening to the old guys, TROUBLE says that they have stopped and that it’s a mistake. MONEYBALL seems more real, but shit, I’m glad Clint is right in this one. It would be a depressing movie if he retires in shame and Matthew Lillard gets to be right.
So, TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE is kinda bullshit, but kinda nice.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.