October 12, 2011
Family Film Blogging: Moneyball
Posted by Christine Hurt

So, Columbus Day gave me two tweens with nothing to do.  Looking at the movie showtimes, nothing struck me as particularly family-friendly.  (I didn't recognize "Real Steel" as being the movie about the boxing robot, which would have been a good choice.)  So, I sort of conned my kids into going to see Moneyball.  This way, I could kind of justify the week day movie as research, seeing as how law schools eagerly embraced the strategies touted by Michael Lewis' book Moneyball.  (See earlier Glom post by Bill Henderson here.)

As the movie began, by daughter whispers "Wait, is this a baseball movie?"  I didn't have the heart to tell her it was really a statistics movie, so I just said "Yes."  And I was actually correct.  If you have followed the rocky path of this book to the movies, then you know that it has had at least three screenwriters and three directors, trying to figure out how to make a movie about quantitative analysis of baseball player performance data.  The end result is that the movie is really a baseball movie, which is not a bad thing.  And this steep compromise generally satisfied my baseball-loving fourth grade son, and well, my daughter knows enough to root for the young Yale economist over a room full of foul-mouthed old guys.

The movie follows the narrative arc of almost every sports movie you've ever seen.  The Oakland A's are the underdogs.  They have a teeny, tiny budget.  Their best players have been picked off by competitors.  They are the Bad News Bears with somewhat less cursing; Major League's Cleveland Indians without the big laughs; the 1980 U.S. Miracle hockey team without the heart.  But, you are moved to pull for the A's because you side with coach Billy Beane, played by Brad Pitt, and his statistician Peter Brand, a fictional character played by Jonah Hill.  Even if you know nothing about baseball, you instantly recognize that Beane's idea has promise and should be allowed a chance to succeed.  The only twist is that the ending isn't a complete "Do you believe in miracles?" ending.  The A's set a record for straight wins in a season, but don't go to the World Series.  This would be like making a movie about the 1980 U.S. hockey team beating the USSR in the semifinals, but then losing in the finals.  Not much of a movie.  However, that's when you realize that the movie isn't really just a sports movie; it's a movie about Billy Beane, who overcomes his own background to claim career and family success.

Pitt is great as Beane, which is good because he's the whole movie.  At some point, we'll have to get Robert Redford and Pitt in the same room so we can determine if they aren't the same person.  I didn't particularly think Jonah Hill was all that great.  He seemed to be channeling Jesse Eisenberg's near Aspberger-like flat affect portraying Mark Zuckerberg.  It didn't seem to be working with the character and the lines he was given.  Hill's character was necessary to guide, educate and support Beane, not be an enigma with ambiguous motivations.  Like Jiminy Cricket.  Jiminy Cricket has a lot of energy and warmth.  Hill's character did not.  And what about the statistics?  Data was the main character of the book, but it is really off-stage in the movie.  There are a few allusions to on-base percentage, but that's about it.  And finally, Aaron Sorkin gets a co-write on the screenplay, but this is not a Sorkin product.  Every once in awhile there is a glimpse of some fast-paced Sorkin banter, but then it's gone.  This isn't to say it is not a good movie, but maybe the characters here are not as fast-talking, sarcastic and witty as Harvard undergrads, high-level speechwriters or sportswriters.

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