Monday, February 18, 2019

Reserved Seating Swings for the Fences: TROUBLE WTH THE CURVE

by Rob DiCristino and Adam Riske
The review duo who have trouble with the cursive. Can’t do it. Can print all day, though.

Adam: Welcome to another season of Reserved Seating Swings for the Fences. I’m Adam Riske.

Rob: And I’m Rob DiCristino.
Adam: As MLB players report for Spring Training this week, we’re bringing you our first baseball review of the year: the 2012 Clint Eastwood vehicle Trouble with the Curve, which was directed by Eastwood’s longtime producer Robert Lorenz. You wouldn’t be able to tell, since this is a 2K Clint Eastwood movie through and through. It tells the story of an aging Atlanta Braves scout named Gus Lobel (Eastwood) who’s responsible for bringing the likes of Dale Murphy, Tom Glavine, and Chipper Jones to the organization. Gus is losing his vision, so he begrudgingly accepts the help of his workaholic lawyer daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), in scouting top tier DH (?) prospect Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill). Also along for the ride is a potential love interest for Mickey: a former Gus Lobel prospect-turned-Boston Red Sox scout named Johnny “The Flame” Flanagan (Justin Timberlake), who’s also taking a look at Bo. Will Gus and Mickey patch up their long-estranged relationship? Will Gus be able to stick it to the sniveling Braves Assistant GM (Matthew Lillard) who wants him run out of the organization? Will Johnny be able to parlay scouting the Red Sox #1 pick into a career as a broadcaster? All of those questions and more will be answered (well, two of those three will) by the end credits. The film co-stars John Goodman as Eastwood’s boss, whose job really is to blow sunshine up everyone’s ass about Gus’s genius, Robert Patrick as the remarkably passive Braves GM, and Scott Eastwood as a Braves prospect brought into the organization by Gus who can’t hit a lick right now because he misses his mama.

Trouble with the Curve is a perfect Reserved Seating movie because it’s ½ charming, ½ pretty bad, and all fun to discuss. As a road trip drama, it mostly works because the cast is overqualified and Amy Adams drags it to success. The movie is sweet at its center even if embarrassingly naive. As a baseball story, it’s hilarious for many reasons we’ll get into later. I think what trips up the film are the two main male leads, played by Eastwood and Timberlake. Justin Timberlake is very talented as a performer but he’s not a very good actor. In my humble opinion, he sounds like a little boy pretending to be a grown man in Trouble with the Curve, and his whole character trajectory in relation to baseball (he acquits himself fine in the romantic scenes) is ridiculous. I can buy that he’s a former prospect whose career didn’t pan out so he became a scout. I can’t buy that he thinks scouting is his ticket to the broadcast booth (Why not just go into broadcasting? Why doesn’t he need to earn his dues broadcasting minor leagues first?) or that the Red Sox would send a guy like him (who needs to ask for scouting advice from the family Lobel) to check out their projected no. 1 prospect? I don’t think there’s a single moment in the movie showing Timberlake good at his job. As for Eastwood, I used to be a fan of his, like most people, but something happened with him in the past ten years and he’s become a laughable angry old man raging at the world. In Trouble with the Curve, it’s to the point of parody. He’s mad at specialists, he’s mad at tables, he’s mad at waitresses, he’s mad at computers, he’s mad at phones, etc. He’s at a table for one and the world is the restaurant.
Rob: And he needs a check! Can someone get him a GOD DAMNED check!? Trouble with the Curve is some goofy-ass Old Man Eastwood nonsense. How many late-career Eastwood films are about the modern world’s failure to recognize the singular genius of the independent, trailblazing, White American Man? Oh, all of them? That’s right. The aging Eastwood is again humanity’s last hope against the coming onslaught of smart phones, sabermetrics, erectile dysfunction, and mouthy women. Like you said, though, Trouble with the Curve has that 50/50 charming/incompetent thing that usually makes for a fun Reserved Seating conversation. This was my first viewing, and (like you, apparently) I have a lot of questions we need to address.

But before we get there, I need to agree and disagree with you when it comes to Justin Timberlake. He feels super performative and out of his depth here (and in Black Snake Moan, a favorite of mine that he occasionally interrupts with his badness), but I find him fascinating in The Social Network. Maybe that was just case of the right actor playing the right role at the right time? Could just be me. Something just tells me that he has a good performance in him that we haven’t seen yet.

Anyway, does the movie want us to like Bo Gentry, or not? He’s clearly a dick to his teammates (especially the smaller kid who is inexplicably batting before him. Is he fast, or something? Does he walk a lot? What’s his OBP?), but then we get the rising music and slow motion revelry every time he gets a hit. And yeah, what the hell does being a scout have to do with being a broadcaster? And did you notice how the A-plot sort of runs out of steam about twenty minutes before the end, so the movie just becomes something else for a while? And, wait. Back to Bo for a minute: No one had ever thought to throw him a breaking ball before? The number one prospect in baseball? I understand that the movie is trying to illustrate the importance of being on the road, digging in, and using instinct rather than relying on numbers on a computer screen, but this is all so damn sloppy. Sorry, I’m just ranting because there are so many directions to go in.
Adam: Let’s keep on the topic of Bo Gentry. How in the hell is he a projected no. 1 prospect? Matthew Lillard says he is a five-tool player, but anyone who watches baseball would tell you that Gentry is huge and is maybe a one-dimensional HR hitter at best. I kept thinking back to SoxFest (the annual White Sox convention I attended) from a few weeks ago in regards to Bo. On one of the panels, professional scouts were there talking to parents of current middle school and high school players on things that they look for in future prospects. They notice EVERYTHING!

They said flat out that kids are being judged from the moment they step out of their mom’s car. If the kid doesn’t have his uniform on? He’s docked. If the kid isn’t carrying his own bags? He’s worthless. Are the parents bringing him water during a game? He will never play in the big leagues. I’m not exaggerating. When I saw Bo regaling (in front of MLB scouts) how he wants to bang the cast of Desperate Housewives when he makes it to the pros and habitually chewing out his other teammates….c’mon! That kid had no chance of getting drafted, let alone in the first run of the first round. Also, wouldn’t the scouts be allowed to talk to the players at some point? I tried Googling it and it seems like it’s within their abilities since the organizations are in constant contact with high school and college athletes during September to May before the draft in June. Also, why is Bo at the Braves ballpark taking batting practice immediately after the draft? Is he just bypassing all minor league ball? Matthew Lillard keeps saying he’ll transform their lineup for the next five to ten years….no he will not! If the kid is 18, he’ll be in the minors for at least one to two years and what fucking baseball team drafts for need in the MLB draft especially at no. 2? At no. 2 you get the best player available, period. End of story. If you’re drafting at no. 2 that means your team lost a lot of games last year and are not going to compete immediately anyways. Yikes! #Rebuild

What did you think of the late subplot about the motel owner’s son who is anointed the next Sandy Koufax after he threw less than ten pitches?
Rob: Oh, you mean Peanut Boy, the kid featured in one scene before becoming the centerpiece of the climax? That’s just this movie’s style. And I get it, I get it: Mickey finds her true calling as a baseball agent, finally lets go of what works “on paper,” and uses her instincts. Sure. But when she arranges for this kid to try out for the Braves (specifically showing off both his curveball and Gentry’s inability to hit one), I realized how embarrassingly far the movie had gone for that moment. It was like using jug handles in New Jersey: You make three rights to make a left. And that’s part of what I meant when I said the main plot doesn’t seem long enough for the movie it’s in. It’s like Patrick always says about differently-colored script pages: You can tell this high school showdown was from an earlier draft and they were either too lazy or not creative enough to rewrite it.

Can we talk for a minute about the insane tonal shift the movie takes when Gus reveals his rationale for leaving his daughter in boarding school for all those years? It comes completely out of left field (no pun intended), absolves Gus for his sins in the most narratively lazy way possible, and is then completely ignored for the rest of the movie.

Adam: It gets worse than that. Eastwood realizes he needs to send her away because she was almost molested in a barn and he beat the guy half to death after he found them. This is from another movie. A much more serious movie. I hate hate hate when movies use abuse as a plot device that they’re not interested in dealing with seriously. It’s so gross, especially when it’s really about turning Eastwood into a sympathetic figure.

I guess now is a good time to talk about Amy Adams. Say what you want about the movie, but her performance in Trouble with the Curve is really quite good. She gives this part a depth and soul that’s impressive for a movie as light as this one. I think her romance with Justin Timberlake is the part of the film that works the most conventionally, although it seems like a mismatch. She’s so clearly an adult and he’s a man-boy in my eyes. Also, I’ll just say she’s absolutely beautiful in the film. It’s like she has a grace or glow to her here that I’m not used to always seeing with Amy Adams in some of her other films. She has great hair I guess is what I’m trying to say. Maybe it’s because she’s talking about baseball all the time? I dunno. I just have a crush on her in this movie. It’s a real movie star flex.

Is it just me or does Clint Eastwood not really factor into the most important parts of the film? It feels like it’s really Amy Adams’s movie by the end and Eastwood’s character would have made just as much sense being found dead in a diner booth as getting an extension to his deal to scout the Atlanta Braves.
Rob: First of all, Amy Adams is absolutely luminous and deserves more praise than we could possibly give her. I saw a few reviews mention that she’s even got a bit of a “Clint Eastwood squint” going in a few scenes, and while I admit I didn’t notice it, it’s indicative of how game she was for this role and how much she cared about shaping it into something real. And yeah, she does seem to take things over by the end, which is okay, but did Robert Patrick forget that Gus can’t see? That’s something they need to get fixed immediately, and it’s another thing the movie sort of forgets about in its rush to the finish line. “My daughter saved the day.” “Great, let’s extend your contract!”

Where do you rank this on the scale of baseball movies? Despite Johnny and Mickey trading trivia, Trouble with the Curve doesn’t seem to know much or have anything interesting to say about the game.

Adam: It’s a pretty uninspired baseball movie. Just now I was thinking about how much better this would’ve been if Eastwood approached the character like a Mr. Miyagi type and Adams was a young scout he’s showing the ropes. The movie is screaming for a pass-the-torch type of trajectory, but Eastwood’s vanity won’t allow it. He needs to show those punk “youngsters” he still has the hardest dick in the clubhouse. Remember how the movie opens with him yelling at his dick because he can’t pee like an alpha? Remember how Scott Eastwood cameos at the beginning and his cold open is explained away in a line of dialogue at the end? Remember how the motel they’re staying at has a cute name only from a movie like the Rusty Squirrel or something like that? In closing a brief observation: I’m anointing this the middle chapter in Clint Eastwood’s 2K Diner Trilogy with Million Dollar Baby and The Mule. I’m convinced he only stars in movies deliberately to go on road trips, stay in motels and get a bite to eat every now and then.

Rob: It’s hard to deny the appeal of a good diner, especially when the waitresses are throwing crossword puzzles your way. Just don’t be late with the check! He doesn’t like that. Anyway, it’s a big Mark Off for me on Trouble with the Curve, though I really did enjoy some of the goofier moments. I ended up doubling this with Draft Day because I was so eager for a good version of these tropes. Bo Gentry ain’t got shit on Bo Callahan. What are we talking about next week?

Adam: He sure doesn’t. Next week we’re doing our monthly new-to-me film discoveries column. I know you’ve been having a solid month and so have I. The key is not seeing new releases :-)

Rob: It’s been a good month, and it’s only getting better. Until next time…

Adam: These seats are reserved.


  1. Great discussion, guys! As for Timberlake's acting prowess, I'm wondering how the two of you feel about his performance in Alpha Dog. Thoughts?

    1. He's good there. Also in Friends with Benefits. I probably exaggerated because I think he's miscast here.

    2. It's been years since I've seen Alpha Dog. I generally find him charismatic, though I agree with Adam that he's miscast here.