A League of Their Own

A League of Their Own (1992): United States – directed by Penny Marshall

Rated PG by the MPAA – contains some language and mild sexual references

A League of Their Own is a nice movie, a pleasant movie, a Hollywood movie.  It doesn’t take risks, doesn’t alienate its audience, and doesn’t provide any controversial material.  It tells a simple tale with some obvious themes, and it does it perfectly well.  This is why the film has achieved a certain status as a fan favorite.

The story is based on real-life occurrences during World War II.  Most of the athletic young men were away at war, leaving professional baseball devastated.  Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall, director Penny Marshall’s brother) is a candy man, well known for his Harvey Bars.  He’s a bit of a showman as well, eager to lure crowds back to once-packed baseball stadiums.  His hope is that a new league, one filled with attractive dames, will woo a war-weary audience back into the seats.

The film focuses on two of these women, Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis, looking rather pretty) and her younger sister Kit Keller (Lori Petty).  The two of them are engaged in a friendly match when a recruiter turns up.  Ernie (Jon Lovitz, more amusing than obnoxious) is scouring the country, even the farmlands where Dottie and Kit reside, for attractive and athletic women.  He wants Dottie, a hard-hitting and intelligent catcher, to try out in Chicago.  She agrees, on one condition; that Kit is also allowed to try out.

The trio makes the long trip from Oregon to Chicago, stopping at various venues along the way looking for new talent.  Among the fresh meat is Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh), a rather homely girl with a powerful swing.  She provides another moment for Kit and Dottie to put their feet down, saying that they won’t try out if Marla isn’t allowed to join.  At the tryouts are a number of other characters, including the fast-talking Mae (Madonna) and her friend Doris (Rosie O’Donnell).  Together the young women join a team and take part in the introductory season.

Until the formation of the team the film is a bit overly heartfelt and sentimental.  It wallows in the sisterly love/hate relationship between Kit and Dottie and the melancholy of farmland and a nation consumed by war (Dottie’s husband is fighting overseas).  Then, at just the right moment to rescue the film, Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) turns up as the team’s manager.  He was a former professional ballplayer with a penchant for hitting home runs, but his career was derailed by an injury.  Instead of recovering he turned to drink, something that Walter Harvey is willing to overlook as long as he can provide his marketable face to a team of female ballplayers.

Dugan is cynical and grumpy, a perfect counterpoint to the cheeriness and camaraderie exhibited by many of the women.  He keeps the movie from ever becoming too schmaltzy, instead grounding it in some of the realities of the day.  The women face some of the difficulties of the war, including one of those dreaded telegrams.  At times the movie misuses the difficult issues by contriving subsequent plot points to effectively jerk tears out of the audience.  Fortunately, none of it is ever too obvious that it distracts from the story.

The film holds together rather well, in spite of a large cast and some standard sports movie conventions.  There is a certain charm in watching these women succeed, and in watching Dugan realize that maybe some of them can play ball.  When he finally decides to start coaching the team instead of merely being a perpetually soused figurehead, it becomes clear that he has a good heart even if he claims to only want his contractual bonus should the team win the championship.

Additionally, some of the relationships are fairly complex.  Kit and Dottie’s relationship is central to the film, and the way they struggle adds a bit of depth to the proceedings.  Kit’s fear of constantly being overshadowed by the prettier, more athletic, more talented, and smarter Dottie is a continual theme, one that forces Kit and Dottie to make some interesting decisions.

A League of Their Own does a perfectly adequate job of telling an interesting story.  It is sweet at times, sad at times, and funny at times (particularly during Lovitz’s initial scenes).  I think most of the film’s fans enjoy the film because of the relationships forged between the women, a concurrent theme to their struggle to be appreciated as ballplayers and not pinups.  There are a few missteps along the way, mostly due to the film being very by-the-book, production-wise.  There are some pretty colors, with red uniforms, yellow, dusty baseball diamonds, and some over-saturated grass, but other than that nothing particularly stands out, technically.  The film’s fans will continue to watch it, and I’m sure it will be fondly remembered in the years to come.

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