Film Review: “Trouble with the Curve”

by Jason LeRoy on September 21, 2012

“An empty chair? What were you thinking?” Amy Adams and Clint Eastwood in TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE

starring: Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Matthew Lillard, Robert Patrick

written by: Randy Brown

directed by: Robert Lorenz

MPAA: Rated PG-13 for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking

It is impossible to watch the opening scene of Trouble with the Curve without recalling Clint Eastwood’s instantly immortal chair-scolding episode at the RNC. The first thing we see is a slow-motion shot of a rippling black horse galloping ominously toward us; we suddenly cut to Eastwood awaking in bed with a startled wheeze, and we realize the powerful black horse was his nightmare. Um, OBAMA? We then transition directly into a sequence of Eastwood puttering around his home, talking to inanimate objects ranging from his penis to a tin of Spam, and even — yes — admonishing several pieces of furniture. Really. These are all things that happen in the first five minutes of the movie. And although Eastwood is heckling these household items for tripping him rather than seating an invisible president who repeatedly suggests that he go fuck himself, the entire sequence is remarkably prophetic of the disastrous turn its star would take on the national stage just a few weeks before it opened.

The rest of the film is somewhat less parodic, but no less pandering and artless in its red state-friendly depiction of some alternate Eastwoodized universe in which things are just more simple, dang it all to heck. Eastwood stars as Gus, a scout for the Atlanta Braves who is gradually losing his sight. This does not bode well for him professionally; in addition to his health problems, he has a dastardly whippersnapper named Phillip (Matthew Lillard) gunning for his job by suggesting technology is more efficient than Gus’ decades-honed personal touch. So as Gus trundles off to North Carolina to scout a major potential player, his longtime friend and colleague Pete (John Goodman) calls Gus’ daughter Mickey (Amy Adams), a high-powered lawyer trying to make partner at her firm. Pete pleads that Gus needs Mickey’s help, and she begrudgingly puts her partnership in jeopardy to join her stubborn father, with whom she has a strained relationship. As a consolation prize she gets to have a romance with Johnny (Justin Timberlake), a gentlemanly young scout who admires Gus.

This fictitious universe has several observable traits and principles, such as:

  • It is entirely appropriate to burst out singing “You Are My Sunshine” at a moment’s notice. If you are alone while doing so, the disembodied voice of Carly Simon will appear out of thin air and echo your refrain.
  • Racial and ethnic minorities are perfectly happy, eager even, about their subjugated roles in the economic system. We meet a cheerful Hispanic maid who speaks perfect, barely-accented English while nobly raising her two perfectly well-behaved sons. We also meet a jolly black man with a guitar on a park bench who delightedly serenades our two white lovers for a romantic sidewalk dance. But they tip him, so, you know, job creators.
  • Technological devices, including but not limited to computers and smartphones, are inherently elitist and evil and have adversely osmotic reactions on those who use them. No one who uses any form of technology is to be trusted unless they have fully renounced their techie dependency.
  • Vegans will casually dismiss their sham lifestyles and commence devouring hot dogs if given enough physical distance from their godless urban enclaves.
  • Ambitious career women are just disappointed daddy’s girls craving male approval; the approval of a woman’s father is pivotal enough that, once obtained, she is liberated to abandon her worldly goals and resume living entirely as an extension of him.

The debut film of screenwriter Randy Brown and longtime Eastwood collaborator-turned-director Robert Lorenz, Trouble with the Curve is the first film Eastwood has starred in without directing since 1993’s In the Line of Fire. And while the quality of Eastwood’s directorial output has arguably dropped off a bit over the last four years, it is still a very good thing for his filmography that it will not bear this blemish (although it does have an insanely out-of-place reveal that harkens back to a similar moment in Mystic River). Not that the film isn’t entertaining; it moves along at a brisk and confident pace, rounding all the expected bases (see what I did there?) with oblivious glee. It mines a fair bit of humor from Eastwood’s obliging self-parody as The Craggiest Man Who Ever Codgered, and features solid dramatic work from Amy Adams, whose character is more the protagonist than Eastwood’s; she gives a complex and thoughtful performance despite the triteness of the material.

Trouble with the Curve seems intentionally designed as a rebuttal to Moneyball, a liberal sports movie if ever there was one. It’s a manifesto in defense of that film’s farty old white men, bitterly exposed as archaic and out-of-touch by Jonah Hill’s Ivy League numbers-cruncher. But, as with the ideologies they represent, Trouble with the Curve lacks the qualities — self-awareness, intelligence, facts, honesty, a platform based on something other than “why can’t things be the way they were?” — that gave Moneyball its substance. It concludes with an absurd avalanche of wish fulfillment, and sadly, that’s all this film has to offer.

Trouble with the Curve opens nationwide today.

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