Thursday, June 21, 2018

Reserved Seating Swings for the Fences: A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo who glued Betty Spaghetti’s baseball card back together.

Adam: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Adam “I’ve been traded to Racine” Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob “Dirt in the Skirt” DiCristino. Our summer baseball series continues with Penny Marshall’s 1992 classic, A League of Their Own. Inspired by the real-life exploits of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (1943-1954), the film tells the story of Dottie Hinson and Kit Keller (Geena Davis and Lori Petty), two sisters recruited by the fledgling organization struggling to keep baseball alive while the MLB’s male players served in World War II. They join teammates Doris (Rosie O’Donnell), Helen (Anne Ramsay), Marla (Megan Cavanaugh), and “All the Way” Mae (Madonna) on an odyssey of sisterhood and self-discovery overseen by washed-up All-Star and reluctant manager Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks).
A League of Their Own is easily my favorite baseball movie. It’s bold and romantic without being too overwrought. It’s honest about what baseball is and — maybe more importantly — what it isn’t. It takes on the era’s gender politics with a knowing and satirical edge without ever being pedantic. Geena Davis and Tom Hanks are completely entrancing together; that bit where they send conflicting signs to the batter is an all-time great moment in American cinema, and I always imagine it playing on a highlight reel at the Oscars.

On a personal note, A League of Their Own also birthed my long-standing crush on Lori Petty. We were talking with Patrick yesterday about the early ‘90s tear that she went on — this, Free Willy, Tank Girl, and Point Break — and she’s a bright spark of energy in each one. Really, though, this is a great ensemble piece. The characters are all fleshed-out and relatable. The baseball action is some of the best and most realistic ever produced by Hollywood. It’s an unstoppable piece of joy, a Sunday afternoon movie of the highest order.

Adam: Patrick called me a monster for forgetting Tank Girl. I’ve never seen it but I have seen the movie we’re reviewing: A League of Their Own.

This movie is a masterpiece (and this is from someone who loves other Penny Marshall movies like Big and Awakenings). I have no idea why I ever hesitate when asked what the best baseball movie is because it’s so clearly A League of Their Own. We’re going to have a lot to praise, so I’ll start by saying that Hans Zimmer’s score is phenomenal. For the first time I noticed how much it adds to the drive and muscle of the baseball scenes and montages. Baseball movies usually don’t have great game sequences, but the ones in A League of Their Own are top-notch. I would be fine if the movie stopped and we just watched these actors play a full nine innings. You can tell they busted their asses to make it look as good as it does in the film.
Rob: The music and action are outstanding. All that sliding in a skirt? There’s a moment where a player reveals a nasty bruise on her thigh, and I have no problem believing that was a real injury that they just threw in.

Adam: According to trivia, it was and it took a year to heal.

Rob: Everything is so well crafted; you really feel as though you’re participating in the ups and downs of a professional baseball season. My favorite aspects, though, are the ways in which Dottie and Kit’s sibling tension is communicated through baseball terms — a pitcher being taken out of a game against her wishes; a strong hitter giving batting advice to a weaker one — and blows up the whole conflict of the movie. It paints the larger picture of a team fighting to win together while simultaneously reminding us that this is really the story of two sisters.

I have two questions for you: One is about wrap-around segments. I understand that one of the major goals of the movie is to honor the real-life AAGPBL, but I always wish the opening and closing were trimmed down or cut entirely. I have this problem with a lot of movies (Saving Private Ryan), and I’m curious about what you think. The second is a larger philosophical question that has apparently sparked a bit of debate among the movie’s fans: Did Dottie drop the ball on purpose? I say yes.
Adam: This was the first viewing of the movie (I’ve seen it probably between five and ten times altogether) where I think Dottie didn’t drop the ball on purpose. The fact that she went to the mound to tell the pitcher to throw high because she knew Kit would chase them indicates to me that Dottie respects Kit enough to make her have to beat Dottie fair and square, which Kit does just by hitting the pitch to deep right. It wouldn’t gel if Dottie dropped the ball on purpose because then she cheated basically. I think Dottie wanted to win, but she wanted Kit to beat her on the field even more. In the end, I think Dottie got what she wanted and didn’t have to sacrifice her integrity to do so. That might not be the correct answer, but that’s how I personally want to read it.

Rob: I respect that reading, but I maintain that one of the reasons Dottie returns for Game 7 is to settle things with Kit. Given the dexterity Dottie shows off throughout the movie, that play at home seems like a relatively easy one, one she would have pulled off had it been really important to her. I think she wanted to make up for all the times she’s upstaged Kit by giving her the biggest win of all. Kit wanted it more, and Dottie wanted her to have it. I actually really like that we disagree on this. It’s one of the reasons the movie is so great.

Adam: I like the wrap-around segments because those were mostly (or maybe all) real women who played in the league. It’s a victory lap, for sure, but in this case I feel like they deserve it. It’s better than just the usual photograph montage/text update we get in most true-story films. This is also finally the time I realized that it’s not Geena Davis in makeup playing her older self but an actress who looks remarkably like Geena Davis where they dubbed in Geena Davis’s voice. That bothered me for 26 years, so I’m happy to finally have a definitive answer. Also, if it weren’t for the wraparound, we would not have the wonderfully bizarre end credits which I say are strange because Madonna’s song “This Used To Be My Playground” is a touch too sad and the final footage we see is of a older woman getting all up in the grill of an umpire. It’s a bizarre note to end on.

I want to get into so many of the performances (we will) but I want to start with one I don’t think many people discuss when talking about this movie - who is your favorite under-the-radar player on the Rockford Peaches, i.e. one not played by a movie star?
Rob: My first instinct is to say Marla Hooch, but I think that’s mostly because I cringe every time an actor (especially a woman) is presented as being objectively unattractive within the text of a movie. I’m sure a lot of actors are desensitized to this (and probably make their careers playing a “type”) but I can’t help feeling uncomfortable about it. Megan Cavanaugh is awesome in this movie, and I love that her character finds happiness and success. I think she fits this bill for me because I’m rooting for her so hard.

Adam: That was my first choice, too, but a close second is someone whose character and actual name I can’t find right now. It’s the southern woman who plays infield and then pitches after Kit gets traded to Racine. She takes the preconception that she’ll be sort of a princess-type and flips it on its head. She can play two positions!

A League of Their Own came at the beginning of that great streak for Tom Hanks between 1992 and 2002, where every movie he was in was good. It’s not one of his performances that gets talked up as much as Big or Forrest Gump, but I really think Hanks brings an element to the movie that’s needed. He’s almost a reaction to the schmaltz the movie could easily fall into and that comic and dramatic energy brings a no-nonsense quality that serves the movie really well. One thing I love about the film is that you can sense the grind of an entire season. It’s not just a rags-to-riches or a pennant chase trope, but instead the jobness of it all. You mentioned earlier how well Hanks and Geena Davis play off one another and I think her stoicism is key, because what Dugan senses more than anything is that she’s a “ball player,” a professional, one of “us.” Geena Davis is so phenomenal in this movie. I have no clue how this isn’t regarded as one of the greatest performances of the decade. She is so much the reason why this film sings and it brings out all of her tools including an affability that doesn’t beg for you to like her and her athletic physicality. I’m happy to be reminding myself lately of how great Geena Davis is because I didn’t fully grasp her talent when I was a kid growing up in the ‘90s.
Rob: She’s unbelievable. The shot of Davis and Hanks sitting in the dugout chewing and watching the game oozes an absolutely unbearable amount of charisma. We were talking a bit offline about whether or not Dugan had a crush on Dottie, and I think we agree that it transcends attraction; like you said, he’s finding a respect for her as a ballplayer that he didn’t think was possible. As much as I want them to hook up, she’s simply way too good for him.

I really like what you said about Dugan being the foil to the schmaltz; he keeps things grounded and gives the girls a constant reminder of what they’re up against. Once he’s on their side, there’s nothing stopping them, and by getting his act together and supporting them, he gives us permission to like him as much as we want to from the beginning.

What are some of your favorite moments? I love the bit with Madonna teaching Shirley Baker (Ann Cusack) how to read using a dirty novel. Her line reading of “It gets really good after that!” always gets me.

Adam: I can think of a few: 1) I really like when Kit is having a meltdown in the dugout when she pitches for Racine at the end. She is throwing a really good game and her team just needs to pick her up; but she’s a wreck and it’s a great short-hand that she’s not a brat as much as like this tortured soul who makes everything so much harder than it has to be. 2) I forgot who does it (maybe Madonna) but there’s a part where one of the Rockford Peaches kicks the opposing catcher’s mask away and that makes me laugh because it’s such a fun baseball detail. 3) Jon Lovitz. Everything he says is funny in this movie. 4) LF/C Alice Gaspers facial reactions are priceless. 5) When Marla is auditioning and switches to a lefty and the male baseball players groan because she’s going to destroy them even more than before as a right-handed hitter. 6) When the older Ira Lowenstein cuts the ribbon at the Baseball Hall of Fame exhibit and says that the honor is his. 7) “I loved you in The Wizard of Oz.” 8) When Jimmy throws the glove at Stillwell. 9) When Jimmy is shaking to stop himself from jostling the hell out of Evelyn for always missing the cut-off man. 10) Lori Petty cracking up when her etiquette teacher says “A lady reveals nothing.” I could go on and on.

Rob: “Has anyone ever told you you look like a penis with a little hat on?” How about Madonna rising to leave when Lowenstein says there will be no smoking and no men? Another great one is when the black woman along the foul line throws a ball over Dottie’s head and gives her that very dignified nod. It’s such a nice commentary on the fact that, despite how progressive the AAGPBL was, there were always more horizons to cross. Is anyone not on board with A League of Their Own? It’s such a movie movie. Movie with a capital “M.” I love it.

Adam: I wouldn’t begrudge anyone for not liking it because I saw Gotti and Incredibles 2 this weekend and liked Gotti more. I am in no position to judge. What are we reviewing next week?

Rob: Let’s head back to Amity for the mostly fine Jaws 2. This’ll also give me an excuse for more #Scheidersploitation!

Adam: Haha! That shark got taken out Gotti style. Shows you to be a dick, shark! Until next time…

Rob: These seats are reserved.


  1. This article makes me so happy! You covered so many BASES here guys, on why this is my second fav movie of all time :)

    On a tangent here- I was explaining to someone yesterday the reason I love watching the World Cup but don't particularly pay attention to soccer on off years - one reason is because I think the World Cup is so well shot - the lighting is perfect every game, they get every facial expression and the plays from 10 different angles and in slow motion. You can tell they have all the money and the latest and best equipment on every game. A musical score on top wouldn't seem out of place. It's sports but it's like dramatic entertainment first.

    Sorry back to the movie - It's the movie about sisters I relate to the most, which is truly why it's my favorite. Personally I never thought Dottie dropped the ball on purpose. Because I relate to that fight of the older sister who thinks she knows what's best and thinks she does everything she does for her younger sister out of love, and doesn't understand why this younger sister doesn't get it and is being such a brat. And then the (younger) sister who's like "But what you're doing doesn't feel like love. If you love me why can't you just let me have what I want?"

    I think Dottie wanted to win. It's easy to be of two minds - you can love Kit and want her to be so happy but you also want some for yourself. It's easily a mixed feeling. But then when Kit does win and Dottie, standing with Jimmy, smiles about it, it's like she lost the battle but she won the war and she knows it. All it took was me getting out of your way. The "how many sisters do you think I have" moment is like the "I'm not perfect but I tried to do everything I could for you."

  2. Wow! It's also my favorite baseball movie, and I actually thought that was an unusual opinion before reading this. haha