Gus (Clint Eastwood) is a legendary recruiter for the Atlanta Braves, but he’s not getting any younger. His old-school methods of finding baseball talent by scouring hometown newspapers and traveling the country to watch games firsthand are ridiculed by younger recruiters, who use computer software to tally players’ stats without ever having to leave the office. What’s worse, Gus’s degenerating eyesight threatens to take him out of the game completely.
Meanwhile, his daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) is competing to be made partner in her law firm. She is none too pleased when just before her biggest case, she is called on to accompany her father to North Carolina, where he is scouting batting phenomenon Bo Gentry (Joe Massingill), a high school bully whose main interest is in “banging chicks.” If Gus screws it up, his career is over. The plot thickens as Mickey (“short for Mickey, as in Mickey Mantle,” her dad’s favorite player) garners the attentions of Johnny (Justin Timberlake), the newbie scout for the Red Sox, who had been one of Gus’s recruits before suffering an injury to his pitching arm.
Though Adams would seem too soft for a pairing with the gruff Eastwood, the two have an unexpected chemistry. Much of the humor derives from Gus’s cranky defiance of his old age, even as he realizes it is getting the best of him (as in a barfight, he yells, “Get out of here before I have a heart attack trying to kill you!”). Beyond this humor, his dilemma provides a moving narrative of what happens when you can no longer do the thing you most love to do. Baseball recruiting is Gus’s life, but without his eyesight, he can’t see the game.
Though this film could have portrayed Mickey as a one-dimensional, workaholic cold fish, her troubled relationship with her father ends up deepening her character. Not just a foil for Eastwood’s Gus, Mickey has a story of her own, not to mention some very impressive moves with a pool cue.
Timberlake’s character gets less development, as he follows Mickey around puppy-dog-eyed for most of the film. Still, he’s not without goals of his own. He has learned early on what Gus is learning now – that in the world of sports your physical body may not be up to the task of achieving your greatest dreams. But he has learned that you develop new dreams and move on. With his boy-next-door charm, Timberlake is somehow suave and geeky at the same time. He keeps up with Eastwood and Adams nicely.
One of the most wonderful and unique aspects of this film is that, shot on location, it spotlights the gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains and Piedmont hills of northern Georgia. Filmed at the Amicalola Lodge in Dawsonville, Georgia (population 619), the motel where Gus and Mickey stay on their road trip is perfectly indicative of the small town American South.
In one scene Mickey and Johnny try clogging with a bluegrass band playing in the background, and though the film does at one point put every single bar patron except Mickey into a plaid flannel shirt, it doesn’t overdo its portrayal of Dixie the way so many movies and TV shows do (with all the women bustling around in aprons making jam and squealing things like, “Well, I do declare!”). Director Robert Lorenz is to be commended for making the South feel genuine on film, such a rare accomplishment among Hollywood filmmakers.
The film does have its minor flaws. It borders on corny in a couple of places, as when Eastwood’s character sings “You are My Sunshine” to his dead wife’s headstone. At one point it employs a cliché that seems obligatory for all cinematic romances, that moment when the characters spontaneously strip down to their undies, jump into a conviently close body of water, and cavort like dolphins — a cinematic shorthand for courtship that should henceforward be banned from all films until the end of time.
Yet these tiny issues are quickly forgiven as we reach the ending, which is fun and satisfying and clears the bases with a little surprise you don’t see coming. Definitely not just for sports fans, the universal themes found in Trouble With the Curve are sure to appeal even to those who dislike baseball.
Trouble With the Curve hits theaters September 21st .
Final Verdict: Trouble With the Curve is an engaging feel-good film, with both Eastwood’s and Adams’ characters getting equal attention. The humor is understated but effective, the portrayal of the South feels genuine, and Justin Timberlake is adorable.