I had the same thought everyone else did when I first saw the trailer for the Robert Lorenz-directed, Trouble with the Curve: “oh boy, Gran Torino with baseball”. And to some degree, that’s still true, but Curve brings the charm, laughs, and performance that Torino lacked with a stellar cast, great story, and tons of heart.
Eastwood’s character in Curve is noticeably similar to his role in Torino: an emotionally detached old man who pushes those closest to him away while battling the pangs of old age. Only this time instead of a war veteran, he’s a veteran baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves, Gus Lobel, and happens to be losing his sight. Gus’s daughter, Micky (Amy Adams) is an associate at a prominent law firm in Atlanta and although she sees her father often, the two don’t really connect as a family and it’s apparent from the beginning that the mending of this relationship is going to take center stage in the film.
Things get started quickly when Gus’s long-time friend and business partner Pete Klein (John Goodman) informs him that his job is in jeopardy. Computers have become a big part of the business and the ball club is considering getting rid of old-fashioned guys like Gus in favor of picking players strictly by statistics and numbers. The top prospect this year is Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), a cocky, stocky jerk with a hell of a swing who plays for a North Carolina minor league team, and the scout assignment is Gus’s last shot to prove his usefulness to the Braves’ management. He couldn’t be less interested. Gus just loves baseball and loves what he does. If the Braves decide they’d rather trust a bunch of numbers on the confound interwebs, screw ‘em.
But Klein is more concerned about Gus’s well-being. Without his work to keep him busy and happy, he worries that Gus’s health will deteriorate rapidly. He enlists Micky to go along with Gus on the assignment to keep an eye on him. She declines at first, worried that she’ll lose her chance at a partner position at her firm and not convinced that her father even wants her around, but eventually concedes after learning about his deteriorating sight.
Thankfully between all that plot set-up we do get a chance to appreciate the characters as well. Goodman and Adams are great in their supporting roles, Justin Timberlake brings the laughs and the romance as a scout for the Boston Red Sox named Flannigan (just so you know he’s from Boston), but none even come close to stealing Eastwood’s ample supply of thunder.
Watching him growl, mutter, and insult his way through Curve is the best part of it, keeping the audience laughing whether they’re supposed to or not. Sometimes its as subtle as nonchalantly grabbing a beer out of the fridge for a 9AM pizza breakfast, sometimes it’s at the expense of a would-be touching moment – whoever thought letting Eastwood sing melancholy to a gravestone without a hint of humor is out of their mind. There are also plenty of great one-liners to rival the classic “Get off my lawn!” (“Someone give me the goddamn check!”), and each one of them sounds like it came straight off the top of Eastwood’s head, unscripted as his infamous RNC “speech”.
The story is sometimes slow, sometimes predictable, but always touching and peppered throughout with humor brewed from great chemistry between the core cast, and if you like baseball, there’s that too.
The film does have a bit of a problem shifting gears when it comes to tone. The main antagonists hit a bit too close to “cartoon villainy” in a few scenes. There’s a complicated, dark backstory involving Gus, his daughter, and a horse that is revealed little by little, but never is anything but ridiculous. And then there’s the aforementioned gravestone scene, but these moments are few and far between and don’t detract much from the overall quality of the movie.
Trouble with the Curve is better than the sappy dramedy it sounds like on paper, and a successful directorial debut for Lorenz. With a great cast, it manages to tell a heartwarming story about love, family, and America’s greatest pastime without ever feeling cheesy or contrived. The laughs outweigh the cries, and although towards the end the plausibility of certain events seems to head close to “no effing way that would happen” status, it also manages to stay grounded most of the time and truly is an enjoyable film. If you’re a fan of Eastwood, his costars, or baseball, you’ll probably love it. If you don’t like any of those things, Curve won’t make you a fan and, well, what do you like exactly?
Trouble with the Curve hits theaters September 21st.