I have no problem whatsoever with the words “target demographic.” It sounds a little dehumanizing, but movies – like any other form of artistic expression – are made with audiences in mind, and you can’t please all the people all the time and it’s foolish to even try. Even if you’re going for a broad audience, like with, say, The Avengers, there are still some people out there who aren’t going to go for it. Like people who hate Hawkeye for some reason (those people bug me). So when a movie like Trouble with the Curve comes along, a movie catering specifically to an older and more sentimental demographic than I properly belong to, I think that’s just fine. Older, nostalgic audiences deserve their own movies too. They deserve better movies than this, even.
Critics kind of dog piled on Trouble with the Curve when it first came out last September, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a clichéd motion picture with a couple of rip-snortingly bizarre moments that undermine its own credibility as mainstream, comfortable entertainment. But having finally seen it for myself, I can say with some confidence that Trouble with the Curve isn’t an awful motion picture. It’s just not terribly good. Depending on your affection for old school baseball sermonizing and overwrought melodrama, it’s either just this side of good, or just this side of bad. If that sounds like a colorless commentary on Trouble with the Curve’s quality, that’s because it’s a rather colorless picture.
Clint Eastwood, in the first starring role that he didn’t direct himself since 1993’s friggin’ awesome In the Line of Fire, stars as Gus, a curmudgeonly (well, duh) baseball scout who seems to be the last line of defense against the heartless tactics of modern sports analysis. Matthew Lillard plays a young upstart who wants to fire Gus in favor of computerized scouting programs that say an up-and-coming high school player is going to be a big star. Gus is shipped out to see if the kid’s really got the goods, but his vision is going, so his workaholic daughter Amy Adams decides to tag along to help Gus keep his job and hopefully reconnect with the parent who she feels abandoned her at a young age. She meets another baseball scout played by Justin Timberlake and falls in love with him, because he’s played by Justin Timberlake and you’d do the exact same thing in her situation.
Trouble with the Curve really should serve as a vital counterpoint to Bennett Miller’s Moneyball, a fine film on its own merits, but still a very one-sided portrayal of modern baseball. The old codgers who judged players based on somewhat poetic criteria were portrayed as ridiculous soothsayers whose lifelong studies were meaningless compared to the cold scientific truths of computational theory. Moneyball had a point to make beyond its plotline, but without a reasonable counterargument to its thesis, the movie felt like it was simply picking a fight, and then fighting dirty. In Trouble with the Curve, director Robert Lorenz does a good job of re-romanticizing the baseball scouting profession – with loving portrayals of small town games and a tightly knit community of experienced experts with a friendly history together – but it also falls into the same trap. All these new ideas suck for no better reason than because the target demographic might not like the movie as much if the opposition’s argument was presented with fairness.
So instead of Matthew Lillard having something tangible to back up his theories, he’s just a mean guy who uses the word “old” the same way that an A/V Club president would use the word “Laserdisc.” And instead of Gus proving his worth by confirm his theories about the baseball players’ prospects using the kind of intangible qualities that computers can’t quite fathom yet – like the kid’s character, which Trouble with the Curve goes out of its way to demonize anyway – he actually gets to be more scientifically accurate than a calculator, simply because he’s been around the block a lot. Older is better because older is – by definition – better, not because it actually comes with different and valuable perspectives. It’s just as one-sided and judgmental as Moneyball, just in reverse this time.
Which would be more or less fine if Trouble with the Curve was intriguing enough on its other merits, but besides the uniformly fine performances – Eastwood is great, so are Adams and Timberlake and an underused John Goodman – the storyline is so mild that when it does finally pick up, in a strangely horrifying revelation that a key character brushes off like it was nothing for no plausible reason, the movie rings utterly false and even feels a little grotesque. It’s as if Trouble with the Curve suddenly lost its nerve and undermined its own mild, nostalgic tone with a dramatic curveball of its own, and it goes beyond troubling to a new realm of monstrous underpinnings and willful ignorance as to the consequences. You will, if you see Trouble with the Curve, know this scene when you see it, and you will be surprised and creeped out and then confused as to how the characters fail to respond to it in a human manner.
But beyond that weirdo digression, and the judgmental sermonizing, and the rather unbelievable moment when Clint Eastwood says all the words to “You Are My Sunshine” sitting atop his wife’s grave, Trouble with the Curve is kind of alright. It’s a hot dog on a warm summer’s day, and it only has a couple of insects visible in the condiments. You can pluck those out if you’re not picky. It certainly looks great on Blu-ray. The film has a warm, inviting visual atmosphere that befits its intended tone. There are two special features if you really want to know more about how they made a simplistic and single-minded defense against a new generation that just doesn’t “get” baseball anymore. You might very well be in the target demographic. If so, enjoy your movie. As much as you can, anyway. It’s not particularly good, but at least it was made just for you.
Read CraveOnline's original review of Trouble with the Curve