Okay, I’m a guy, right? So the very term "chick flick" goes right up there with visiting the dentist, getting a colonoscopy, reading Jane Austin or worst of all-time: watching Sex in the City (cruel and unusual punishment).
But let's be fair here, I enjoy a few chick flicks- Splendor in the Grass with Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty is actually a really good, enjoyable film, the best performance of both Natalie and Warren's careers- in my humble opinion. I also liked Bridges of Madison County, Clint Eastwood's chick flick (an oxymoron if there ever was one). But my all-time favorite chick flick would definitely be A League of Their Own (1992).
A woman's sports film, possibly the rarest of all genres in Hollywood, the film tells the story of the All-American Girls Professional Ball League, a professional group of women baseball players. Although the film is the story of the entire women's baseball league (there really was an AAAGPBL in America from 1943 to 1954), it actually is the story of two sisters.
Dottie Hinson and Kit Keller are a pair of ball-playing sisters from the sticks, who get discovered by a scout, obnoxiously but wonderfully played by Jon Lovitz. (Lovitz is a real scene-stealer in his role as the baseball scout and actually was supposed to have a bigger role in the film, but something, unfortunately, came up, and his character was written out after a few great early scenes.)
Dottie (played by Geena Davis) the older, more mature sister, is happily married and although greatly talented as a ball player, the game is just a lark to her. Marriage and her husband are the center of her life and universe. (Interestingly, this film, along with Thelma and Louise, are, far and away, the two finest films of Geena's career, each a popular and well-known movie. However, she won her Oscar as Best Supporting Actress for The Accidental Tourist, a film hardly seen, remembered, or cared about by anyone.)
Younger sister Kit (Lori Petty) is not nearly as gifted as her older sister, but baseball is her life and gives meaning to her existence. This yin/yang battle of priorities, is, as we all know, the eternal battle of modern women: career versus relationship. The film shows both sides fairly and the director (this is Penny Marshall's best film, Big notwithstanding) is fair, not politically correct, and shows each side of the proverbial coin.
Tom Hanks is always awesome and he plays his role as the washed-up, alcoholic team manager Jimmy Dugan with great humor and even a bit of pathos. Hanks (I swear, I asked him) based his role on a real-life ex-ballplayer/alcoholic named Jimmie Foxx. Foxx actually did manage a girl's team in the AAGPBL for a season in 1952. Hanks, for the record, is a serious and very knowledgeable baseball fan.
Hanks (Jimmy) initially looks upon his job as manager of a girl's ball club as a degrading necessity to earn booze money, but as the film progresses he develops a real affinity for the team and grows to love his job. Hanks' “There's no crying in baseball" scene has become, much like his later Gumpian “Life is like a box of chocolates" scene, an actual part of American nomenclature and pop culture.
The supporting cast of lady ball players is headed by best pals Madonna, in a very nice performance, and Rosie O’Donnell. (The perfunctory Hollywood scene where Rosie is engaged to marry a "loser" and she "finds herself" and tears up his photo and tosses it out the window takes on a slightly humorous light in view of O’Donnell’s later revealed sexual preference. One last quick aside: no one really cares much who Rosie chooses to go to bed with, save some ultra-right nut-jobs. Most care that she is often a very unpleasant, nasty person. Ellen Degeneres, the other most famous "out-of-the closet-er" of our time, is, conversely, always warm, friendly, decent- and almost impossible to dislike.)
All the girls play their roles well. Pitcher Betty Spaghetti is played very likably by Marshall's real-life daughter Tracy Reiner.
But more importantly, this film shows us "feminism" (a word that should be great but has become all-too-often too much like Rosie and not enough like Ellen) in it's actual, true definition- i.e. women working together, supporting each other, helping each other, taking on their inevitable "fate" in a man's world, and not grumbling or whining, just going out and succeeding- without the help of big brother or any other force but themselves.
Kit, the lesser of the two sisters, is always being unintentionally upstaged by her “Babe Ruthian" sister and her marvelous feats on the diamond. Which brings us to this wonderful film's weakest point. Kit, played intensely by actress Petty (what the heck ever became of her? Gotta check IMDb) is shown to be a jealous, spoiled, petulant kid.
In the film's climactic scene, the two sisters are pitted against each other in the final game seven of the World Series. (One slight error in the film: a big fuss is made by the girls and manager Jimmy, earlier, in a scene where they win a ballgame and "clinch a spot in the play-offs.” But it was also earlier revealed that there were only four teams in the league, therefore, per definition, all the teams had to have made the playoffs. You do the math.) It looks like sister Dottie will be the hero again, as usual, but no, Kit gets the game-winning hit in the last of the ninth, as sister Dottie (the catcher) drops the ball and Kit is declared safe at home plate.
The film asks (indirectly, but for each viewer to answer for his or herself) “Did Dottie deliberately drop the ball to let Kit have her big moment?" Whether she did or not, as my pal Freddy points out, “I didn't like that spoiled girl with her attitude to get validated in the end.” I see his point, and yes, this may be a caveat in an otherwise superb film. But no film is perfect and I let that criticism slide.
The conclusion of the film shows Dottie going off to live a happy life with husband Bob (Bill Pullman) and "having kids" while Kit decides to devote her life to playing ball with her team (although a later reunion sequence shows her with four grandchildren accompanying her to the Hall of Fame ceremony).
A League of Their Own is one of those rare films I enjoy watching every time I flip to it.
As one last, touching (well, it is to me anyway) gesture, director Marshall invited several surviving women players from the actual AAGPBL to play in a friendly game, as the end credits roll (far less serious, of course, but still slightly reminiscent of Spielberg's excellent final scene in Schindler's List). One of the reunion women has obviously had a stroke. Every time I see her my heart goes out to her.
Okay, as I said at the start, I’m a guy. I’ll watch Meryl Streep or Bette Davis or Julia Roberts or Katharine Hepburn (all very talented actresses) and I will be bored out of my skull. Who knows? Maybe this is a flaw in my own make-up, but as Mick Jagger said so perfectly in one of his best songs: “I know what i like.” I’m just not or never have been that "into" watching actresses emote. But somehow A League of Their Own gets both my interest and attention, and holds them. It is a very funny, yet serious, and well-made movie.
Now, as to whether I think Dottie did (or didn't) deliberately drop that ball on that crucial play at the plate, well, I’m tired now and i've got to go to bed. Let's discuss that in another article.