“I can’t change … I’m a broken- down old man,” Clint Eastwood’s character, Gus, explains in Trouble with the Curve. A few scenes later, Gus’ younger coworker proposes that Gus “may be ready for pasture.”
Could these lines be subtle hints that Eastwood is considering retirement? Perhaps.
What these words really reflect, though, is that Eastwood’s star power, hefty as it might be, isn’t enough to salvage a mediocre movie.
Eastwood stars as a once-successful baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves who finds that his macular degeneration is beginning to affect his work. His daughter joins him on a scouting trip to judge his condition and hopefully strengthen their tenuous relationship.
This film, directed by Robert Lorenz, is ambitious. It aims to fuse an epic sports story with a tear-jerking family drama, even sprinkling a little variation on the coming-of-age story (with Eastwood’s character struggling to accept that he’s aging quickly) — in short, it aspires to be a film about feelings and relationships that men are allowed to like.
On some level, it succeeds. But instead of feeling like a grand slam, it ends up coming across as formulaic and bland. In trying to achieve so much, this movie spreads itself thin.
A jumpy script exacerbates this problem, abruptly escalating tension between underdeveloped characters and relying on overly simple dialogue that sounds unnatural coming from actors who otherwise seem intelligent.
The acting is stellar overall, though. Amy Adams, who usually lends an obnoxious uppity quality to her roles, is impressively down-to-earth as Gus’ daughter, Mickey. It’s fortunate that Adams paints Mickey as such a strong female role model, because women are frustratingly absent from this film. Her reactions to her father’s emotional unavailability are very human and relatable for any viewer who has had trouble communicating with a loved one. She convinces us that she’s an assertive lawyer and a passionate baseball enthusiast, exuding elegance and shrewd intelligence. And, as always, Adams is stunning on screen; it’s nearly worth the price of admission to watch her hair bounce around and shine in the sun — and she even looks great in a catcher’s mask.
Justin Timberlake, cast as a younger scout and Adams’ inevitable love interest, makes the most out of an underdeveloped character. As we’ve learned from his past performances, especially his appearances on Saturday Night Live, Timberlake is quite the charmer. But his attempts to provide us with a little comic relief and a little eye candy for the ladies, but this makes his character all too predictable. Timberlake is too charming for this role. His performance fails to tap into the vulnerability and depression that exist inside a failed athlete.
He does, however, serve his purpose as Adams’ romantic costar. Their chemistry is moderately believable, peaking in the scenes in which they dance together. Thank goodness someone realized that these two thrive in musical theater-type situations. Here’s to hoping that Adams and Timberlake costar in a movie musical very, very soon.
And then there’s Eastwood, who, even at age 82, can captivate us with a simple squint and scowl. After his bizarre chair shenanigans at the Republican National Convention, much of the world has been questioning Eastwood’s sanity — and worse, cultural relevance — but his behavior in this film proves he is still highly compelling to watch. Though he spends most of the movie growling and acting like an ill-tempered old man — he literally calls someone “sonny” — his acting chops are evident in a few tender moments with Adams and in instances where his frustration with aging manifests in physical outbursts. Though it’s sometimes difficult to see Eastwood’s eyes through eyelids that are near perpetual slits, watch them carefully — that’s where his emotional depth resides.
Technically speaking, this film is adequate — nothing special. The cinematography is good enough that it makes viewers want to visit North Carolina. The score, which is underused, is oddly relaxing in its incorporation of gentle strings and a plucky acoustic guitar, contributing to the feeling that this is one of the most low-energy sports films ever. The sound effects and mixing expertly manipulate audience members into believing that they are as sensitive to the noises in baseball as a seasoned scout is.
Another sad and missed opportunity is found in the lame music supervision. Instead of seizing the chance to accompany athletic montages with energetic and marketable rock music as most sports films do, scenes are coupled with lukewarm pop or country songs.
Trouble with the Curve is perfectly fine for post-summer, pre-award season fare. It had the potential to be wonderful, but falls a little short, landing it firmly in the wait-to-watch-on-Netflix-when-you’re-really-bored category.
If, however, you find yourself incapable of thinking of a way to pass time with your baseball-loving grandpa, this movie might be a good choice.