A League of Their Own (1992)
There’s no crying in baseball!
When WWII steals all our base-running-capable men, one junk food magnet has the foresight to realize that women can also pick up a bat and play the game. Jon Lovitz does some “acting!” and recruits a crew of women who will come together to form the four teams of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League including two sisters who form the heart of The Rockford Peaches. While they form the heart, Tom Hanks forms the gut.
Why We Love It
It is rarer and rarer that a movie like this is even made. I’d even go far to say that they don’t make ’em like this anymore, but that would sound cliche, and you’d think I’d be able to come up with something more original. Well, I can’t. But the point still stands. Director Penny Marshall has made a movie that’s funnier than most comedies and has more depth than most dramas all based off a strange (but true) concept. It celebrates feminism and female achievement without shoving it down anyone’s throats, presents all the aspects of the time period whether light-hearted or heart-breaking, and never fails to entertain.
The most obvious factor in the genius of this movie is the long list of characters that inhabit the world. Great writing, great acting, and humor that comes from their interactions (with just a dash of sight gags tossed in). Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) is a flawless human being – amazingly talented at baseball, but not really passionate about playing anymore. She is cool and has her eye on the big picture, but she’s also the first to console someone else or lend a listening ear. Her foil is Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), a man who is all of those things but chooses to hide them behind a wall of hilarious alcoholism and crude, hateful behavior. He may very well be the best baseball character ever put on screen who never plays baseball during the film, and he’s light-years funnier than Kenny Powers.
As if two dynamic leads weren’t enough, and seeing as how this is an ensemble, you have the loud-mouth genius of Doris (Rosie O’Donnell) and her best friend All The Way Mae (Madonna), the quiet loneliness of heavy-hitter Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh), and, of course, Dottie’s little sister Kit (Lori Petty) who is desperate to play but can’t get out of Dottie’s shadow. These ladies and the rest of the squad are all women in the truest sense of the word – beautiful, strong, vulnerable, smart, emotional, sex symbols and eye-rollers. They know their own worth in a world that hasn’t caught up with that concept yet but still seeks to exploit them. But all of this is simply placed on screen. It’s never given a megaphone, and the result is an entertaining flick that’s a great story about a group of people in American history first, a comedy second, and a message about feminism maybe 6th or 7th down the list.
And these characters are all tossed into some fantastic situations – from the awkwardness of placing the women in finishing school to the most annoying child of all time joining them on the bus (which breaks down). These are mostly classic comedic tropes that all work beautifully here (especially when that annoying little Stillwell gets hit in the face with a baseball glove). Those scenes are sprinkled with fantastic dialog and subtle jokes from each character that also make me feel like I’m part of the team when I watch it. That’s one of the triumphs of a great movie like this – when you watch it, you feel like you’re embedded completely into that world – and when Doris makes fun of Mae for being a slut, we’re all in on that joke and laugh along with all the characters.
Which brings me to the true genius. Great scenes and lively characters are one thing, but the film rounds itself out by not trying to be a soft-focused look at women playing baseball. It feels like a real movie because of how gritty it gets. One one end of the spectrum, the comedy is broken up by the constant fear of Dottie’s husband being overseas fighting Germany and brilliant scenes like when Betty Spaghetti receives word that her husband has died while fighting in the Pacific. The air is let out of the room as soon as you see the messenger, every girl in the room stands frozen assuming its them getting the bad news, and when Jimmy hands Betty the telegram there’s a beautiful swirl of emotion from girls sighing relief and then breaking down for their friend’s intense loss. It’s as perfect a scene as you’d ever hope for in a drama. Just absolutely perfect.
On the other end of the spectrum is the reality of how crass most of the people are (which is sort of lampooned within the aforementioned finishing school sequence). Sure, A League of Their Own swings the pendulum from gut-wrenching laughter to gut-wrenching drama, but it also has Jimmy telling the umpire he looks like a penis with his little hat on and prays about having his balls be plentiful.
It’s that balance that keeps it always moving. From a touching scene between Marla and her father to Lovitz’s Ernie mocking her for not hurrying up, from the joy of finding your name on the list to a touching moment where one woman who can’t read stands helpless in front of the posted pages, the movie juggles between the two extremes to create something extraordinary.
Somehow this film perfectly weaves together all the intimate moments that you’d get with a dynamic group while making you feel the dirt of the mound underneath your feet, because, above all, it’s a sport movie with a climactic World Series ending. A long, harrowing journey with laughter and tears that leads up to nine innings that makes all the difference.
Moment We Fell in Love
For the first time, I’m choosing a moment that’s clearly not the best scene of the movie, but it’s one that displays exactly what this film is working with. In the same movie that deals with the death of loved ones and the difficulty for women to be taken seriously in mainstream society, there is a scene where Tom Hanks stands in front of a urinal and pees for what must be 2 to 3 full minutes of screen time. I haven’t done the math, but it might hold the record as longest piss in a film. It’s the lowest form of humor tucked into a serious film (how awesome is that?!), and it’s played to the height of its comedic juice, squeezed for every last drop just like, well, you get the idea. And the best part of the whole scene is that while doing it in front of his all-female team, Madonna’s character actually slowly creeps up near the end of the stream as if to check out what Jimmy’s working with. Ridiculous, beyond funny, and it actually matches her character. Doesn’t get much better than that. Plus, it lays all of the movie’s cards on the table next to a urinal cake.
Who doesn’t love this movie? Point them out to me, and I’ll fight them. It’s the kind of movie that comedy filmmakers dream of making – it’s got heart which gives every comedic beat more life and allows the film to go into darker territory when it needs to. You get to see a little kid hit in the face. You get to see Madonna act slutty. You get to see Geena Davis slide into the splits to catch a pop-up foul. You get to see Tom Hanks peeing for an inordinately long time. If you can read that list and not get excited, I don’t want to know you.