Monday, 13 September 2010

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992) - 3 1/2 STARS

"A woman's place is on home, first, second, and third"


Normally I am not one to become involved in watching films where women are the main focus and 'comedy' is used to describe a film they are in e.g. SEX AND THE CITY (2008), but a particular film like this one which combines a group of likable characters, a heartwarming story and a fun American sport is what makes A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN (1992) a very genuine success. The charming direction from Penny Marshall and a strong award winning cast which includes Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and Madonna helps benefit the film as we are taken back in time to a period where women playing baseball was seen as laughable back in the 1940's but over the course of the story, we become attached to the characters and cheer them on as they try to overcome the odds Rocky-style and go the distance!


The story starts with an elderly woman named traveling with her daughter to a Baseball stadium where a group of other old ladies are involved in helping out with the place. Through this woman's eyes we are taken back forty years earlier to the 1940s where the Second World War was at its peak, the men were away fighting and the women were staying at home awaiting their return. We see this woman in her early thirties, Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) who is a talented female baseball player who also pitches for her local team. While she is very good at the sport, her younger sister Kit (Lori Petty) is arrogant but passionate about playing but is not quite as good as her sibling. The pair live on a farm together but news is rife about a recently formed baseball league involving women known as the All American Girls Professional Baseball League which is to try and get the girls to do something different then their stereotypical role of cooking and cleaning. Cynical baseball scout Ernie (Jon Lovitz) manages to get the girls to come to Chicago to become part of this league and both succeed in getting into the same team known as the Rockford Peaches which is supervised by league executive Ira Lowenstein (David Strathairn). The girls get to know different personalities in their team including shy but unnerved Marla (Megan Cavanagh), loud-mouth Doris (Rosie O'Donnell) and sultry romanticist Mae (Madonna in dark looks mode). The team then soon find themselves a coach to help them in the shape of former Baseball star turned alcoholic Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) whose career has left him washed up (in the literal sense of the word) and is treating the whole set-up as a joke believing that women can't play. However Dottie plays the part-time role of coach and manages to succeed in getting the team to become winners despite Jimmy spending most of his time spitting and vomiting in drunk mode


Over the course of the film, the women start getting better and better in the games and even attract media coverage but some struggle to handle their own personal problems with Dottie waiting in anguish for her husband Bob (Bill Pullman) to return home from the war safely though one of the women ends up suffering a loss later in the film. However soon she and Jimmy end up understanding each other as he supports her and soon he manages to show a strong interest in helping the girls with getting to the World Series. Another player has to put up with her loud son causing headaches for the group while Marla ends up proving she isn't ugly by gaining a man. Things soon start to become awkward for both the team and the league with Ira's boss Harvey (Garry Marshall) wanting to finish the set-up because of the war's imminent end but Ira insists on trying to keep it going as its popularity continues to grow. The team despite their marvelous season suffer through jealousy as Kit becomes envious towards her sister gaining the attention of everyone and after a fight with Doris, she struggles with wanting to stick around. However a mistake from Ira leads to her being transferred to another team for which she blames Dottie for it and the pair fall out. Towards the end of the film Dottie is eventually reunited with Bob and ends up quitting the team just as they prepare for the World Series but the case of whether she enjoys it gets to her and soon she and her sister find themselves on opposite sides when their two teams come face-to-face in a gripping final....


In many ways this is a throwback to an earlier time when films set out to warm the hearts of the audience and uplift their spirits. Sure, you can't win them all, but you can try, is what this film makes us feel, and if you do, something good will happen. There is of course a somewhat self-conscious retrospective look at the sorry political and social state of women sixty years ago, but Marshall does not wallow in the politics. Instead she emphasizes a fun-to-watch tale with real human characters. The unpredictable, but believable ending makes agreement to that though the final scene involving a reunion between the players is touching and authentic. The cast is very good and does a great job. Geena Davis shines as the no-nonscence pitcher whose reluctance to do the sport while showing her concern for her husband's safety and her sister's well being adding the emotional side to the film. Hanks proves dislikable for the first half of the film but his transformation from a crude, uncaring drunk to the team's hard-nosed but soft-hearted leader is very well and believably done. Petty makes Kit to be a spoilt brat but that is for a reason to try and make the relationship between her and Dottie strained. O'Donnell, Lovitz and Strathairn also lend their own different support during the film though unsurprisingly Madonna despite her sultry role, is a bit unbelievable to be playing a baseball player. Pullman is also wasted in his brief role. With Madonna being an unlikely type of person to play baseball, it is through clever editing that makes the female players look amazing at the sport but making them look too good. Also history shows that most of the events that happen in the film were fictional and you can see why. That is part of the film's flaw with some unbelievable moments such as Dottie doing the splits while taking a catch as well as the infamous urinating scene from Hanks which lasts for a ridiculous 53 seconds! Though the film aims to be a comedy, there is a lack of it and only adds slapstick to make up for it and really the dramatic element helps it. More than anything, this film posed a number of dramatically compelling questions but left them unanswered. In the end however you know that these were the women who were brought together because they all had the guts, determination and talent to change the face of American sports and Marshall deserves a lot of credit of proving that girls can play sports in such entertaining fashion!

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