Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Kevinography, part 12: Bull Durham (1988)

This is part 12 in a series in which, for reasons not really clear, I watch all watchable movies with Kevin Costner. And maybe even some unwatchable ones. I will then comment on them here for you, including a synopsis in case you aren't familiar with them.

Synopsis: The Minor League baseball team Durham Bulls has a new player, "Nuke" (Tim Robinson), with some promise who might help them break their losing streak, but he's his own worst enemy. So the manager brings in aging pitcher Crash Davies (Kevin Costner), whose job it is to mature the boy. This job is complicated by Annie (Susan Sarandon). She sleeps with one up-and-coming player per season, and she can't decide whether it shall be Nuke or Crash. What follows is a journey through the love life of three people, interspersed with a lot of bad baseball.

Analysis: I'm honest, I'm getting a bit tired about this enterprise. This is yet another movie that might have had something to offer in 1988, but today? The conceit of Susan Sarandon's character alone, the whole homophobic banter, some toxic masculinity, it's all there. What you expect from a 30-years old sports movie, basically.

And while my sincere and deeply felt lack of understanding for the peculiarly American pastime of Baseball might play a role in this, I also feel that the sheer age of the movie has a lot to do with this.

But let's stay with my lack of understanding and, likely, appreciation for the sport. The movie is posing as a sports movie, but it really isn't, not at heart. At its heart, it's a romantic movie, but we'll get to that. The sport is more of an extended metaphor, always visualizing where the love triangle on the one hand and the character arcs on the other are at the moment.

This conceit works reasonably well, but for me as someone who doesn't even has down the basic rules of the game, this is a real problem. I should stop watching baseball movies, you might say, but sports movies don't expect you to usually. I also don't know shit about Football (the American kind, although as you loyal listeners to the Boiled Leather Audio Hour know, I'm not much more sanguine about our home-brew one either), and yet, I enjoyed "Every Damn Sunday" quite a lot.

That is because sports movies manage to provide spectacle and suspense through their presentation. Soundtrack, camera angles, all of that. Bull Durham doesn't trouble with any of that. In that way, it gives what I guess is a pretty accurate experience of a minor league baseball game, which to me always looked like an alarmingly boring sport to spectate. Bull Durham does nothing to disabuse me of that notion.

But again, the sports part isn't really the focus, it's the backdrop. The love story is the main part (so much so that in Germany, the movie is titled "Annie's Men"). There are two women in that movie, Susan Sarandon's Annie and Millie (Jenny Robertson), and both of them have no other aim in life other than sleep around the Durham Bulls, which is really weird. There's a subplot of Millie trying to seduce the very straight religious player in the team, who then instantly converts her into a Midwestern housewife and I have no clue why and what it's supposed to tell me.

The two women are incredibly slutty, and yet, the movie manages to frame this as romantic and somehow deeply emotional. That's admirable on some level. There aren't enough women in movies just enjoying sex, much less so in that time period, so I'm totally down for that.

I can just abide with the characters they're sleeping with. Costner's Crash is a heap of 1980s man. He firmly believes in the cleansing value of violence, be it to break the ice with Nuke, be it to scare his players off. He's ironing his own clothes in the house, but just in case you feared he might be something like a well-rounded man, he's doing it in a dirty apartment in his underwear while drinking whisky. I guess the booze is there to combat the trauma of doing your chores.

And that's more or less all I can really get out about this movie. It just...happened to me.

Verdict: If I didn't scare you off, maybe try it. I'm at a loss, honestly.

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