Hits the sweet spot
The relationship-based, baseball-themed “Trouble with the Curve” doesn’t swing for the fences and that’s a good thing. There are none of the cheer-inducing moments you would expect to find in most sports movies, nor is there any of the biting wit found in last year’s terrific “Moneyball.” But the subtle themes of aging, father-daughter relationships, loss, a sense of purpose, friendship and staying relevant all find a place in a film of quiet but penetrating victories.
For the first time in two decades Clint Eastwood stars but does not direct, leaving those duties (insert director’s “empty chair” joke here) to longtime producing partner Robert Lorenz. This was a good decision, and the 82-year-old icon is perfectly suited as the elderly baseball scout Gus, whose failing vision may be impacting his ability on the job not to mention his ability to navigate the furniture in his own home. His successful attorney daughter Mickey (named for the famous Yankee), played by Amy Adams, is coaxed by Gus’s longtime friend (John Goodman) to travel with her cantankerous father on a scouting trip to watch a highly-touted high school star (Joe Massingill).
Gus refuses to admit he’s having trouble, while Mickey wants to get a few things off her chest about their rocky past.
This gentle, rather predictable set-up leads to some prickly territory as Gus resists Mickey’s prodding, but the script finesses without overreaching and allows Eastwood and Adams to play to their strengths. Few actors alive could make a gravestone lullaby work to tear-inducing perfection like Eastwood, and Adams teems with bubbly vulnerability. A terrific, unforced chemistry surfaces between Mickey and the washed-up ex-ballplayer Johnny (Justin Timberlake).
Will Gus’s talents, though diminished, still prove valuable? Will he and Mickey, despite their regrets and rocky past find common ground? Will an incredible undiscovered talent miraculously appear? Yes, yes and by all means, yes. But that predictability doesn’t detract from “Trouble with the Curve’s” timeless poignancy or a fine ensemble that brings its “A” game to one of the year’s best films.
Rated PG-13 for language, thematic material, sexual references and smoking.