With Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, Justin Timberlake, John Goodman, Matthew Lillard. Written by Randy Brown. Directed by Robert Lorenz. Rated PG-13 for language, sexual references, some thematic material and smoking. 109 minutes.
TROUBLE WITH THE CURVE is Clint Eastwood’s first acting job since “Gran Torino” and his first time acting for someone other than himself as director since 1989’s “Pink Cadillac.” At the age of 82, Eastwood has nothing left to prove as an actor or director, so why do this? First-time director Robert Lorenz has been an assistant director on many Eastwood films and this is, presumably, the way Eastwood is helping Lorenz get a break. Good for him.
The resulting film is really two movies that happen to overlap. In one film, Gus (Eastwood), an aging Atlanta Braves scout, is confronting the end of his career. His vision is failing. His brightest prospect is in a slump. A young hotshot (Matthew Lillard) is arguing that Gus is a dinosaur and it can all be done with computers and software. It’s the opposite of “Moneyball.” Here the crotchety old-timers like Gus are the ones who really understand the game and the use of a laptop is a sign of selling out. This story is mildly interesting, and if scriptwriter Randy Brown has the characters jump through the expected hoops, at least it’s slick and entertaining.
The other film is the far more interesting one. In that one Gus and his thirty-something daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) are forced to deal with the issues they’ve been avoiding their whole lives. Mickey – named for Gus’s favorite ballplayer, Mickey Mantle – is an Atlanta attorney hoping to make partner at her upscale firm. However, Pete (John Goodman), a Braves executive, confides in her that he thinks Gus may be at the end of the line. She’s reluctant but eventually goes along with it as Gus scouts one last potential baseball star.
The reason this latter story is interesting is that it focuses on the real problems between aging parents and their adult children. Mickey’s mother died when she was six and Gus has been a less-than-ideal father. Yet the story isn’t about Gus admitting his failures or Mickey suddenly realizing he’s wonderful. Instead it’s about both of them slowly and painfully coming to see who the other person really is and dealing with that reality. If the plot points are a bit too neat, the emotional truths are not.
Justin Timberlake pops up in a supporting role as a scout for the Boston Red Sox who turns out to be a pitcher once recruited by Gus. We see the all-too-obvious way he is inserted as the love interest for Mickey, but Timberlake once again impresses as an actor utterly comfortable in his own skin. His scenes with Adams are delightful, whether they’re trying to stump each other with baseball trivia or she’s trying to entice him onto the dance floor.
The movie has a bit too many climaxes – it really ought to end when Eastwood and Adams finally bare their souls – yet there’s no denying that the somewhat contrived scenes that follow are emotionally satisfying. We finally get the full meaning of the title, and the people who have rubbed us the wrong way throughout the movie get their comeuppance. If this is Eastwood’s swan song as an actor, he gets the perfect exit at the end of the movie. “Trouble With The Curve” isn’t the greatest Eastwood performance by a long shot, but it’s a lovely coda. Through the process, Eastwood has provided a boost for the directing career of Robert Lorenz who now has to show he deserved it.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His first novel, Shh! It’s A Secret: A Novel About Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide will be released in January 2013. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.