“Trouble With the Curve” is a sweet father-and-daughter story that’s also about baseball. The father/daughter part is well-acted and very sweet, but the baseball element is as egregiously handled as any movie about the sport that I can remember, seemingly written by people who have either never seen the game or haven’t followed in years. It’s the second-most embarrassing thing Clint Eastwood was a part of in the late summer of 2012.
The film was directed by Robert Lorenz, a first-time director but a longtime assistant director on Eastwood’s films. In it, Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, a version of his “Gran Torino” character except that he never retired and remains employed as a baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves even though he’s an 80-year-old man with failing eyesight.
Introduced, literally, arguing with his penis as he attempts to successfully urinate, Gus is on the verge of being fired unless he can successfully evaluate a prospective player- a “high school phenom” who looks like he’s in his late 20s, playing on a team in which everyone else is a little kid.
Amy Adams plays Eastwood’s semi-estranged daughter, a workaholic lawyer who accompanies Gus on the scouting trip. The two have some sweet moments together- Adams, unless she’s playing the wife of a deranged cult leader, is never not appealing- but there isn’t a whole lot in their plot, much less the movie itself, that isn’t obvious a mile away.
But a much bigger problem is the movie’s fundamental misunderstanding of baseball and just about everything about it. I’m speaking specifically of its take on the long battle in baseball circles between scouting and statistical analysis.
To sum up this complex, decade-long debate in one paragraph: For years, baseball teams have relied on the eyes and traditional wisdom of scouts, in evaluating players. In the last ten years, statistical analysis has risen in importance, with certain analytical metrics changing understanding of the game for both teams and fans. Somewhere along the way a consensus was reached and nowadays, most major league teams use some combination of traditional scouting and cutting-edge analysis, with very few of them entirely dismissing either.
Last year’s “Moneyball,” like the book it was based on, took the pro-stats side, although it was set in 2002, when the debate was in its infancy, and yes, it exaggerated the worthlessness of scouting.
However, “Trouble With the Curve”‘s take on the scouts vs. stats question is nothing short of reactionary- taking the wrong side of a debate that’s already over. This would be like a film, two years from now, having as its central thesis statement that Nate Silver is bad at predicting election results.
“No one who uses computers knows a thing about this game,” Eastwood says at one point. There are some pretty anti-sabermetrics people in baseball, but I think most of them at least know how to use email.
But it gets even worse. “Trouble at the Curve” gives us statistics-oriented baseball executive character (Matthew Lillard) who’s both a douchebag and a sneering villain. Not only does this guy say things that no one associated with the sabermetric movement would say, but the movie can’t even get its stereotypes right; I thought we were supposed to think these guys were nerds.
The other howlers are plentiful. Justin Timberlake, playing a rival scout who romances Adams, is doing a year as a baseball scout with a hopes of using it as a steppingstone to becoming a play-by-play announcer for the Boston Red Sox, which makes no sense whatsoever. Team executives say “sign,” when they mean “draft.”
Worst of all is the ending, which should be an insult to anyone who’s ever seen a baseball game.
Baseball fans know more than ever about the way scouting, player development and scouting works. “Trouble With the Curve” takes that knowledge and spits at it.
It’s one of those movies that I’m glad exists, just so I can look forward to its eventual evisceration by Paul Scheer’s “How Did This Get Made” podcast.