Sneak Peek – Trouble With the Curve

Every once in a while, going to see a movie early turns out to be a real advantage beyond just being one of the first people to see the movie. Because I went to a midnight showing on the East Coast, I am one of the few people who saw The Dark Knight Rises before the tragic shooting in Colorado. Many of the people that I know who saw the movie after that incident said that they couldn’t help but think about it during the first half of the movie and that it slightly colored the way that they saw and thought about the film. I had a different experience during my screening as the horrific events were unfolding around the same time that I left the cinema, so I had already experienced the movie before news broke. So my perception of the film may be slightly atypical.

I had a similar experience when I went to the advanced screening of Trouble With the Curve. Normally screenings happen only a few days before the movie is officially released, but for some reason I got to go to a screening for this film 3 weeks early. The earlier screening wound up being a blessing, because that means I got to enjoy the film before seeing Clint Eastwood’s speech at the Republican National Convention. Though it is in no way comparable to the shooting in Aurora, I’m glad that I didn’t have that image of Eastwood and “Invisible Obama” running through my head during the film. I think it would have altered my overall enjoyment; I just wouldn’t have looked at him the same way.

The film chronicles the tumultuous relationship between an aging Major League Baseball scout Gus (Eastwood) and his adult daughter Mickey (Amy Adams). Mickey’s mom died long ago and the two of them have been at odds in some way or another ever since. An issue with Gus’ health compels Mickey to leave her job at a law firm to go out on the road with him on his scouting trips, where the two of them are forced to spend a lot of time together and address some of their deep seeded issues. Along the way, they encounter new scout Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a former major league player that Gus had recruited, who takes a shine to Mickey.

On paper, Trouble With the Curve seems to be pretty much tailor-made for me. I am a tremendous sucker for baseball movies; if you put anything baseball related in a film, you’ve got my attention. I adore Amy Adams; I think she is a very good and versatile actress. She can be silly and fun in a movie like The Muppets or she can be serious in more dramatic roles like in The Fighter and Junebug. I also generally like Eastwood, though I skew in preference more toward his more recent films (Unforgiven and on) than his westerns or Dirty Harry, though as a kid I was a fan of Every Which Way But Loose . Admittedly, that was more because of the monkey than Eastwood. I also just discovered Play Misty for Me, which I really enjoyed though it blew my mind that the psychotic woman in that film would go on to play Lucile Bluth on Arrested Development. The only real wild card in my estimation was Justin Timberlake. I think he’s great on SNL and in some supporting roles, but I get nervous when he is given that much to do or when he is the star of the film. He’s just not there as an actor yet. I didn’t know that he would be able to hold his own on screen with Adams and Eastwood.

Trouble With the Curve may be the perfect date night movie; it’s kind of a combination between Moneyball and Crazy, Stupid Love. There are enough of both elements to keep both men and women happy with the film. The baseball scenes are simplified enough that you don’t have to be a sports fan to follow along with what’s going on, but are also technical enough for purists to enjoy (there were some minor quibbles in accuracy, but sports fans love nothing more than debating these kinds of points). I am not one for romance storylines, but there was enough other stuff going on that I didn’t mind the occasionally foray into that genre. In our group of 4 (2 men and 2 women), everyone walked out of the movie saying that they overall enjoyed it. That doesn’t always happen.

As expected, Amy Adams does a solid job as Mickey. Eastwood is good as well, though his characters are becoming a little one note. Most of his recent roles are the same: gruff old man who doesn’t like to show or discuss feelings. Gus had a lot in common with the character that Eastwood played in Gran Torino, minus the racial slurs. He growls a lot – literally. It’s not quite a caricature yet, but I worry that it’s getting close (the RNC speech doesn’t help matters). But overall he was very effective in the film. I just wish he would get out of the niche that he seems to have carved for himself more often.

The real surprise was Timberlake, who was used absolutely perfectly in the film. They played to his strength with comedy by giving his character some of the better one liners of the film. He can deliver a quip very well. He tends to be very earnest in his acting, but that too was channeled in a productive way. Most importantly, they didn’t over use him. Despite what the ad campaign and posters might lead you to believe, he is a supporting character in the film. He doesn’t have to carry the movie or any of the scenes that he is in. Timberlake’s character provides some comic relief or a break from the family drama, but then he recedes into the background. He’s given enough to do, but not so much that he is in over his head. A very nice showcase for him. John Goodman is also good in a very minor role. Matthew Lillard also has a supporting role, but he is unfortunately saddled with a one note character that is lacking in substance.

While I very much enjoyed Trouble With the Curve, I am also well aware of its flaws. This is not a complicated movie. The plot is very predictable and it is fairly easy to see where the story is going well before they actually get you there. There are no real surprises; the ending of the film is telegraphed pretty early on. To put it in a metaphor fitting to the movie, they aren’t giving the viewers any curveballs; this film is a fast ball right down the middle of the plate. However, even though I saw everything coming, I still enjoyed the journey in getting there. The performances keep the story interesting. And it was kind of nice to kick back and relax watching a movie that doesn’t require you to think very much. You are just along for the ride and get to enjoy the actors doing their thing.

Trouble With the Curve isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it is a solid and enjoyable film. A likable cast makes this a fun little diversion. Hopefully Eastwood’s performance at the Republican National Convention will not overshadow that.

Trouble With the Curve opens nationwide of Friday September 21st.