Just forget the words and sing along

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin - A League of Their Own

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, where I try to find meaning in my sad, lonely existence by watching DVDs and blogging about them.  Wow, that sounded funnier in my head.  Imagine "Weird Al" Yankovic saying that in his trademark over-the-top way, and you'll get what I was going for.  Anywho, on this week's installment, we get to my sister's favourite movie, A League of Their Own.  This entry is originally dated August 13, 2011.

I've grown somewhat lax in doing this, as my Internet went down at home, and then I kind of abandoned this as a feature in my podcast, but this is one of those movies I've been anticipating doing for this column, so when I had the itch to watch this film tonight, I figured why not sit down and blog about it?

A League of Their Own is my sister's favourite movie.  She was nuts for baseball when she was a kid.  She played on all the little league teams.  She played catcher.  She totally kicked ass, too.  The early 1990s was a great time for  a little Canadian girl to be into baseball, what, between the Blue Jays back-to-back World Series wins, and then A League of Their Own hit theatres.  Here was a movie about girl baseball players -- just like her!  Rather than the Disney animated fare that was available at the time, my sister had A League of Their Own on VHS and played it ad nauseum.  I remember when my mother bought the VHS for my sister.  "This is going to be a lot cheaper than renting it every weekend," my mother muttered under her breath.  I think my sister still calls it her favourite movie.  It was released in a 2-disc super-special edition a few years back, and I bought it for her for Christmas.  When I noticed that 2-disc special edition in a discount bin for $10, I decided to buy it for myself.

For those who've never seen it, the film follows the exploits of the Rockford Peaches, a team in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.  The AAGPBL was the brainchild of Philip Wrigley, of Wrigley's Gum.  During World War II, with all the star baseball players joining the armed forces, Wrigley came up with the idea of a women's baseball league to keep baseball alive.  The league actually proved to be quite popular, and was actually around long after the war ended -- all the way to the mid-1950s.

There was a renewed interest in the AAGPBL in the late-1980s, when the Baseball Hall of Fame finally acknowledged it and opened up a massive exhibit on the contributions of women baseball players.  And, of course, it had a strong focus on the AAGPBL.  This renewed focus spawned a PBS documentary about the league, also called A League of Their Own.  One night, film director (and Laverne from Laverne and Shirley) Penny Marshall saw that documentary, and it inspired her.  "There's a movie in this," she said to herself.  "I want to make a movie about this."  So, she got her old colleagues Lowell Ganz and Babalo Mandell on the phone (they wrote her first big hit film Big), and got them to work writing a screenplay.  Marshall shopped it around Hollywood, but despite her successful films, a lot of studios were reluctant to make it with Marshall as director.  But, Columbia Pictures finally agreed to make it and let Marshall direct it.  And it turned out to be a good business decision.  When A League of Their Own hit theatres in the summer of 1992, it was a sleeper hit, and Marshall became the first female director to make a movie that made more than $100 million at the box office.

I do remember when the film first came out, it did receive some criticism.  Heck, a lot of historical films always draw criticism for altering some of the facts of history.  The main criticism was over the league's origins.  Unable to secure a deal with the Wrigley estate, the founder of the league was changed to a fictional "Mr. Harvey" of "Harvey Chocolate Bars."  But still, that didn't stop it from becoming a big hit.

So, the film itself.  It opens in the present day.  Well, 1988, according to the supplemental materials.  This is where we first meet Dottie, who's not an old woman.  Her daughter encourages her to go to "the opening," because all her old friends will be there, and she always talks about how important baseball was.  So, Dottie heads off to Cooperstown, New York, home of the baseball hall of fame.  As Dottie walks out onto the baseball field, we go back in time....

The year is 1943.  Mr. Harvey announces he's forming his women's league.  Out in the midwest, we meet the young Dottie and her little sister Kit.  They are humble dairy farmers, and they spend their weekends playing on the farm's softball team.  There's a strong sibling rivalry between Dottie and Kit, as Dottie has always been the more talented one, the more accomplished one, the prettier one, and, the better ball player.  Soon, a recruiter for the new women's league (played by comedy legend Jon Lovitz, in one of his funniest roles) comes by to recruit Dottie.  Dottie is content to be a humble farm wife and wait for her husband to come home from the war, but Kit sees this as her ticket out of this one-horse town.  But the recruiter only wants Dottie.  Finally, Kit strikes a deal with the recruiter.  Kit can go to tryouts, if she can convince Dottie to come too.  Kit finally convinces Dottie with the ol "Don't you want to do more with your life?" argument, and they're off to Chicago for the tryouts at Wrigley Harvey Field.  Here, we meet some of the other girls, such as May (as played by Madonna) and May's best friend Doris (played by Rosie O'Donnell, in the role that made her famous.)  Dottie and Kit kick butt in tryouts, and they're drafted for the Rockford Peaches. 

We then meet the other big star of the film -- Tom Hanks, who plays the Peaches' manager, Jimmy Dugan.  Dugan is a washed-up major league ball player who's given a job as the Peaches manager.  He's a raging alcoholic, and he treats the whole endeavour as a joke, frequently showing up to games drunk or hungover.  With Dugan being useless as a manager, Dottie quickly takes on the leadership role and starts molding the Peaches into a pretty good team.  One day, Dugan is sober enough on the job to actually pay attention to a game, and gets into a pretty heated argument with Dottie about a play.  Dottie cusses out Dugan, and this snaps him out of his funk, and he starts taking the job seriously.  He starts laying off the booze, and comes to respect the women -- especially Dottie -- as fellow ball players.  He and Dottie even begin to strike up a close friendship. 

(It's funny...in the deleted scenes, there's a lot more stuff between Dottie and Dugan that was cut out of the film.  Marshall says she had to cut it because she found their friendship getting too close, and test audiences actually began rooting for Dottie and Dugan to get together romantically.  She cut it because she always wanted Dottie and Dugan to be just really good friends.)

We're then treated to a series of scenes where just about every woman on the Peaches is given a chance to shine and we really get to know them as characters.  Of course, it's in these scenes where we get the film's most famous line.  After Evelyn, one of the players, blows a play and costs them a run, Dugan cusses her out just like how he'd cuss out any ball player.  Sadly, though, this reduces Evelyn to tears, leading Dugan to proclaim, "There's no crying in baseball!"

Once we've gotten to know all our characters, we get back to our main plot, which is the relationship between Dottie and Kit.  Dottie is quickly rising through the ranks and is being branded as the star player of the league, which just increases Kit's resentment of Dottie.  Things come to a head one game when Dottie advises Dugan to pull Kit from a game.  (Kit is a pitcher.)  This greatly upsets Kit, as she's never been  pulled from a game before.  Kit then admits that it's been tough for her, all her life, living in Dottie's shadow.  The growing tension between Dottie and Kit causes the commissioner of the league to grow fearful that the league may lose its star player, so to separate Dottie and Kit, the commissioner has Kit traded to another team.  This leads to a verbal brawl between Dottie and Kit, as Kit accuses Dottie of orchestrating the whole trade so Dottie will always remain the better sister. 

Around this time, it's revealed that Dottie hasn't heard from her husband in weeks, and is worried about him.  When another player on the team loses her husband in the war, Dottie loses it.  Her fighting with Kit and the constant worry about her husband is just too much stress for her.  But then...her husband walks in!  She hadn't been hearing from him because he was injured and in an army hospital.  But now, he's been discharged from the army, and they can go home and live happily ever after.  So, Dottie promptly quits the team, and Dugan chides her for it.  Dugan tells Dottie that if she quits, she'll regret it for the rest of her life, because she loves baseball too much.  Dottie admits she's quitting because it was getting to hard.  And then, Dugan says, "Of course it's hard.  If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.  Being hard is what makes it great."  That's a great line.  I can't believe I forgot it.

So the Peaches make it to the first Women's World Series.  The opposing team is the Racine Belles, which is the team that Kit now plays for.  Dottie returns to finish out the season, admitting that Dugan was right.  And the final game of the World Series soon becomes a grudge match between Dottie and Kit.  It's been so long since I've seen this, I couldn't believe it.  Geena Davis, as Dottie, has they steely gaze of the Terminator throughout this final game, dedicated to winning at all costs.  Conversely, Kit, as played by Lori Petty, is a train wreck, struggling to keep it together.

But then, Kit scores the winning run!  She plows into Dottie at home plate, causing Dottie to drop the ball, and Kit scores the winning point.  Racine wins the world series, thanks to Kit, and Kit finally breaks out of her sister's shadow to become her own woman.  In the lobby of the baseball stadium after the game, the two sisters hug it out and reconcile.  Dottie is now ready to return to the farm with her husband regret-free, and Kit stays behind to keep kicking butt for Racine. 

We then cut back to the present.  Dottie is reunited with all her fellow Peaches.  She's seeing many of them for the first time ever since she quit the league all those years ago.  They've reunited in Cooperstown for the grand opening of the Baseball Hall of Fame's new exhibit on the AAGPBL.  The girls catch up with each other.  Dottie runs into Kit.  While it's been made clear that they're not estranged, they haven't seen each other in a long time, so they hug it out.  And then, the original Peaches pose for one last team picture.

And the end credits roll, over the very sad Madonna song This Used to be My Playground.

So, yeah.  It's been a while since I've seen the film.  I forgot how funny it is.  It's full of great lines, not just "There's no crying in baseball."  I know I describe it in pretty dire terms up there, but they way the whole scene plays out, it's actually pretty funny. 

And Hans Zimmer did the score!  This was before he discovered the bass-heavy strings that became his trademark (see Crimson Tide and the Christopher Nolan Batman films), and he delivers a very period-appropriate, big-band style, jazzy score.

So, my final assessment:  A League of Their Own is still a very unique film.  "Chick flick" and "sports movie" are two genres that are rarely mashed together.  But Penny Marshall did it very successfully back in '92.  Worth revisiting, if you haven't seen it lately.

No comments: