“Trouble with the Curve” from 2012 is high-grade schmaltz, well-crafted as one would only expect from a project starring veteran actor Clint Eastwood.
Here Eastwood plays Gus, a widower who despite being a legendary baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves is decidedly behind the curve when it comes to computers and the “Interweb.” Instead, Gus still peers at box scores, albeit through a magnifying glass, relying on the dinosaur media that served him so well during his prime, long past. His anachronistic approach earns Gus the scorn of the organization’s young hard charger Phil, played with perfect pitch by Matthew Lillard.
Gus, with his future in the Braves organization on the line, is sent to North Carolina to scout a possible first round draft pick. There he reluctantly accepts the help of his estranged daughter Mickey, played by Amy Adams. Mickey has issues, thanks to dad, but she loves her father and is nostalgic for parts of a childhood spent with him around the game of baseball.
By now we should be used to seeing Eastwood in the role of troubled curmudgeon. Here, besides raging against the dying of his eyesight, Eastwood’s character is given a barroom brawl scene, a gratuitous nod to the persona of one of Hollywood's icons. But mostly Gus struggles with driving his car and walking up stairs. His biggest problem is communicating with his daughter.
“Trouble with the Curve” lacks the depth of emotion of other late-career films from Eastwood like “Gran Torino” or “Million Dollar Baby.” It contents itself with caricatures, including Bo, the young prospect whose in-your-face immaturity and strident selfishness make him easy to root against. One difference between the movie's sentimental shtick and reality is that in the real world there are plenty of jerks who can hit a big league curveball.
Still the story is well conceived and has enough moving parts to stay interesting to the end, an end that is never really in doubt. The viewer’s pleasure comes from gorging on all the corn. The sentimentality here includes many wonderful images of rural and small town America where baseball is played with big passion, if not for big paychecks.
But those scenes in their own way also form a tribute not only to every sandlot shortstop who ever dared to dream of making it to the Bigs, but also to the local bleacher creatures whose love of the game is grounded in family not celebrity, and to the hardworking members of those small communities, from diner waitresses to motel maids, whose daily struggles strengthen the moral fabric.
And then there is baseball itself, with apologies to Clint, America’s pastime is the biggest star in this movie, even if it is mostly the aluminum bat variety. Baseball has a magical quality that lends itself to fairy tales and fairy tale endings. It is that quality, engrained in American culture, which makes this story work.
Despite the character arcs and happy ending, “Trouble with the Curve” never completely resolves the estranged father-daughter relationship at the center of the story. Perhaps there is realism here after all.