Film Review – Trouble with the Curve
Yes, an empty chair in Florida commands him to tell Barack Obama to perform unspeakable acts on himself. Yes, he crankily told a vast Superbowl audience that it’s only halftime in America. Bill Hader does a hilarious imitation of him on Saturday Night Live, and at this point more of us want to think of him as the cranky old bastard in Gran Torino than the essence of cool he was as The Man With No Name. But honestly, Clint Eastwood is one of the last truly grand old Hollywood screen icons. And when he appears in a movie, it’s worth at least taking notice. He is capable of creating indelible film moments, and for that, some of us will always love him on screen.
Unfortunately, his notable return to movies this time is in the frustratingly underwhelming Trouble with the Curve. Clint stars as Gus, an aging talent scout for the Atlanta Braves who is considered almost irrelevant by some members of the management staff (in particular, a snotty character played by Matthew Lillard). But John Goodman’s Pete, as one of Gus’s allies in the organization, contacts Gus’s daughter, Mickey (portrayed by a tenacious Amy Adams). Pete’s been noticing something wrong with Gus and wants Mickey to intervene on an upcoming scouting trip he’s making to check out a talented new hitter in North Carolina. It turns out Gus is “blind as a slab of concrete,” which poses obvious problems for being able to assess new talent. But Adams’s character has a promising law career of her own, with which this trip interferes. Also, her relationship with her dad is rocky at best. Still, she plays the dutiful daughter and follows Gus on the trip. While there, she also meets a charming Justin Timberlake, as a former ballplayer turned aspiring sports broadcaster who is also scouting the talent.
Will the father and daughter be able to repair their broken relationship? Will Adams and Timberlake act on the obvious sparks that are starting between them? With his daughter’s help, will Gus be able to continue with the career he loves? Unfortunately, this is where the script by Randy Brown and the directing by frequent Eastwood collaborator Robert Lorenz truly seem to fail the actors on screen. All of these plot points are so ploddingly predictable it’s painful. Every story point you can see coming a mile away, and every emotional beat plays out exactly as expected. The player being scouted is predictably obnoxious and unworthy. The budding romance is fraught with clichés. And even the late “surprise” talent that’s discovered late in the film you can predict about an hour before it happens. Without spoiling it, let’s just say the resolution of finding a new player falls under that old theatrical chestnut that says if you introduce a gun in the first act, you can be sure someone will use it in the third act. In this case, it’s a talent instead of a gun—but you get the idea.
A prime example of the obviousness that taints the film comes out in an early graveside scene. Gus’s wife has been dead for over 25 years, and he is visiting her headstone. He pours both her and himself a beer. While talking to her grave, he quietly says “You are my sunshine.” Now, that would have been sweet and moving by itself. Understated, sad, fine. But no, he keeps going: “my only sunshine, you make me happy…” He recites the WHOLE song at her grave. The audience knew what he was quoting. We didn’t need the whole thing. This potentially moving character moment slops over into embarrassing over-sentimentality (in fact, at the preview screening there was quite a bit of unintentional laughter during this scene). There end up being countless instances like this throughout the film. The ideas are good, but they beat you over the head with them.
It’s too bad, too. Eastwood appears here for the first time not directing himself since he starred in In The Line of Fire back in the ’90s. And, as always, he’s a solidly engaging presence. Gus is gruff and cranky, but likeable. And Amy Adams is much better than the material she’s given. Trouble With The Curve is at its best when the two of them are on screen together. Both are stubborn. You genuinely believe that they are father and daughter (though in real life Clint is 82 and she’s supposed to be 33 in the movie, which means he was a pretty old dad even when she was born).
When watching Trouble with the Curve, I had a very similar reaction to when I first saw that first Stephen Sommers’ Mummy movie with Brendan Fraser in it. I remember thinking “Boy, Raiders of the Lost Ark is a good movie.” The Mummy felt like an inferior Indiana Jones ripoff, where all the tension in the action scenes is gone due to overuse of frenetic CGI and noise. It made me appreciate more Spielberg’s ability to create tension in his films. And when watching Trouble with the Curve, I thought “Man, Million Dollar Baby is a good movie.” The powerful understatement that Eastwood can bring to a film—in this cases, a character-driven sports drama—is absent in this one, which is SO on the nose that at one point a character STATES the title of the film itself. (Yes, it’s a metaphor. We get it.)
Still, this film might make a good rental for the acting alone. Amy Adams is a treasure and Clint is always at least watchable. I just wish the material itself were better.
Final Grade: C