Each week (or so), Dan McQuade reviews a baseball movie. This week in Cinema Varitek: the 1992 comedy hit A League of Their Own, starring Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell and Lori Petty, directed by Penny Marshall, written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel.
The first installment of Cinema Varitek tackled Air Bud: Seventh Inning Fetch, a movie that ends with a dog winning World Series MVP (for the Angels, no less). This week, Cinema Varitek looks at an even more preposterous baseball movie, one where girls play baseball. Hey-o!
(I kid, of course. Everyone knows girls don't play baseball because A.G. Spalding wasn't loved enough by his mother. Or something like that.)
If the makers of the Air Bud straight-to-DVD franchise had made a movie about girls playing baseball, of course, it would be less believable than The Sixth Man. If Seventh Inning Fetch is sports movie cliche done horribly wrong, A League of Their Own is movie cliche done impressively right. Yeah, the movie's full of holes, spends a lot of time developing several characters who disappear halfway through the movie and has one of those too-perfect-to-happen sports movie moments at the end. But it's enjoyable.
What's actually most enjoyable, though, is the first game of the season, when Rosie O'Donnell's character trips over the third base line when she runs onto the field.
Even if you hate baseball, the movie is worth watching just to see Rosie falling on the field over and over (if you choose to watch this scene over and over, as I did).
A quick primer on the movie's plot: Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) is always better than her kid sister, Kit (Lori "Tank Girl" Petty) at everything, including softball. But when a scout (Jon Lovitz) wants to find players, he takes Kit! And Dottie! Hmm, I guess that isn't much of a twist. He also finds an ugly girl who can hit the ball a mile (Megan Cavanagh), takes them to the tryouts at Wrigley Field and then disappears for the rest of the movie. (He'd return for the very short-lived TV series based on the movie the following year.)
The movie is about the (real) All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, an actual women's baseball league founded during World War II. (The league wasn't originally called that, and the women played a baseball/softball hybrid when it started out, but close enough.) A bunch of people try out, including Mae (Madonna) and Doris (O'Donnell) and a girl who can't read. In a shocking twist of fate, all the main characters make the Rockford Peaches.
At their first game, all the fans actually heckle the players as they take the field (even before Rosie O'Donnell falls). Why would they attend the game just to heckle the players? Actually, wait, I was a Phillies fan in the 1990s, I've done that with regular baseball before. Anyway: With the league in trouble, Dottie Hinson makes the cover of Life with perhaps the hottest scene in baseball movie history.
There's another big coincidence in the film: The team with all the main characters also has the league's most interesting manager, former baseball great Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks).
After watching Hanks bore it up in drama after drama the last 15 years, it was enjoyable to see him in a comedy. Dugan doesn't want to manage girls at first, but he quickly learns that girls can play baseball, even if they don't know that there isn't crying in it. (Ahh, yes. Perhaps you've heard of this line. "There's no crying in baseball!" It's a pretty memorable scene, but isn't as good of a line as the message Hanks' character signs on a baseball later in the film: "Avoid the clap. Jimmy Dugan.") Pretty soon all the characters are learning valuable lessons! The illiterate learn to read, Dottie becomes good friends with Jimmy and Mae gets everyone on the team a night out by poisoning the team mother. Ha ha, what good old-fashioned family humor!
"But wait," you're saying. "There's still an ugly girl on the team!" That's right. And the writers quickly make her disappear by marrying her off with a man she met on said night out.
This lets the movie get back to more important things, like shots of Madonna in her bra.
Sadly for a nine-year-old Dan McQuade, 36-year-old Geena Davis did not agree to do a bra shot, apparently.
You know how the rest of this movie goes, even if you've never seen it: The Rockford Peaches advance to the playoffs, Kit and Dottie have a fight, and kid sister Kit is traded to the Racine Belles. This begs the question: How does one need to "make" the playoffs in a four-team league?
Rockford meets Racine in the World Series, but we're snubbed of our sister showdown; Dottie quits when her husband (Bill Pullman -- nice catch, my man!) returns from the war. Dottie and Bill drive away as the Peaches prepare for their trip to the first game, but don't fret: Dottie "surprisingly" returns for Game 7 of the World Series. This begs the question from IMDb's goofs page: "The car in which Dottie and her husband drive off (presumably to Oregon) has an 'A card' sticker for gas rationing. Would they be able to buy sufficient gas to drive to Yellowstone National Park and back to the Midwest during the course of a 7-game World Series, much less have the time to make the drive?" It also begs the question: What if Racine had just won the 17-inning Game 6?
The South Bend Tribune, incidentally, is an all-sports newspaper.
The big Game 7 comes down to the ninth inning, where Dottie belts in 2 runs to give Rockford the lead. Tank Girl comes back with a 2-run inside-the-park homer to win it for Racine, though, knocking over Dottie and jarring the ball loose in (really) one of the more exciting baseball scenes in a movie.
The film ends with the opening of a "Women in Baseball" exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame -- the bulk of the film is actually a flashback from an aged Dottie Hinson -- and all the players singing a song one of them wrote back during the first season. It appears no one had a bad experience playing in this women's baseball league. Literally. Everybody in this movie has a great time in the league. Jimmy Dugan even turns down an offer to manage at the highest minor league level so he can keep managing the Peaches! If women's baseball was really this uplifting, maybe we should have kept playing it.
Bonus! Since this movie was made in 1992, we get a scene where a character smokes cigarettes. Naturally, it's Madonna.
Much like women playing baseball, smoking in movies is something you just don't see anymore.
On deck: Major League