Sunday, March 11, 2012

Ten Statements About....BULL DURHAM (1988)

"Lady, baseball gloves do not go with that
dress.  Nor does it hide the fact that you're
a hootchie."
"You never hand in your luggage in the show; somebody else carries your bags. It's great. You hit white balls for batting practice. The ball parks are like cathedrals. The hotels all have room service, and the women all have long legs and brains."

1) Let's get this out of the way right now: Susan Sarandon's Annie Savoy is a truly detestable character. She makes a practice of seducing young ball players under the rubric of teaching them to be better people; sends a young girl out to sleep with her prospective boy toys for the season as 'spring training;' plays mind games with Tim Robbins' Ebby LaLoosh....until it results on her not getting laid, at which point she whines and moans about wanting sex; and overall keeps trying to pretend she's anything but a hootchie. If this movie was about a triangle between Annie, Ebby and Kevin Costner's Crash Davis, it would be an unwatchable romcom....

2) ...which is why, thankfully, the romance stuff is just seasoning for what the movie is really about--baseball, both as a science and as a form of magic. Ron Shelton's script manages to address both metaphors for the game equally, and it's those moments of the players using different angles to get the results they want that make the film come alive.

3) It is a thorough shame that Kevin Costner decided at some point he had to be a big screen sci-fi action star, because it's films like this where his strength truly lies. Crash is a very vivid character, a professional who knows he's getting too old for this but is trying his hardest to hold on just a little while longer. And Costner manages to give Crash a level of arrogance without it leaking into assholishness. There are people I can think of right now who could look at this and get a message about hanging onto their glory a bit too long.

4) I was surprised when I revisited this for this review how, well, modest it is for an R rated film. The nudity is mainly clinical, happening in the locker room, and the love scenes all occur under the covers or are conveyed through implication. The rating, I suspect, is mainly for the language.
"Better enjoy this while we can, about twenty
years, you'll be single and I'll be in Actor Limbo...

5) God, I miss Trey Wilson, who was such an amazing actor capable of taking the smallest role--and his role is pretty small here--and making it big just with his presence. The thing that was coolest about him is how he makes every actor he shares a scene with look better. And when he had a great actor to work with--Costner, Tim Robbins, Roberth Wuhl--the film just shines for those few minutes.

6) And speaking of's tough taking a character from a cartoon--and trust me, LaLoosh in the beginning is a cartoon, a caricature of every bad boy pitcher that was roaming the landscape in the late 80's--to a fully realized character in the space of ninety odd minutes. And Robbins does so subtlety and realistically.

7) I think this is a film that worked partially because Robbins and Sarandon were falling in love on set. It gives the film a sense of veracity it might not otherwise have, making the strange handling of the payoff to this plotline work better than it should have.

8) Reason why this movie could not be made now #792: Shelton would not be allowed to end the film with Crash not sharing in LaLoosh's success. Even though the seeds of his being cut and leaving baseball are planted deep in the first act, a modern version of this film would have LaLoosh use his pull as a prospective superstar to bring Davis with him, or insist on Davis getting the roster spot instead of him, or some other sort of inspiring, punch-the-air nonsense....instead of the logical ending of seeing Crash struggle with giving this career up, break the record quietly and without fanfare, and head off to fade away gracefully.
It's a dark day when Tim forgets the chords for 'Michael
Row Your Boat Ashore'....

9) As much as I dislike the Annie plotline, I give Shelton credit for this--he finds a way to parallel her story with Crash's, gets her to realize that the two of them are not all that different, and have her 'fade away' just as gracefully as Crash, settling down with the man who understands her perhaps better than she does.

10) I have to wonder how the film would have benefited or suffered if we got a better sense of Durham as a city. The film's almost total immersion in the ball parks might explain why Annie does come off so badly; maybe if we saw her interact with her students, or with other people in the town she might seem less....well, skanky.

Overall...a great little film that works as a meditation on baseball almost more than it does as the romantic comedy, bouyed by some great performances and a clever script.

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