Trouble with the Curve
Let's get the required baseball metaphor out of the way up front. Trouble with the Curve telegraphs its pitches so blatantly that its effectiveness is seriously diminished. Neither subtlety nor unpredictability is an absolute requirement for an entertaining film, but they help. Like a baseball pitcher that is reduced to throwing nothing but fastballs, the film has no finesse. It can only try to overpower the viewer with raw emotion.
And there is plenty of emotion to be mined here. Clint Eastwood plays Gus, an aging baseball scout whose wife has passed, whose daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) feels he abandoned her, and whose employer (the Atlanta Braves) wants to push him into retirement to make way for younger scouts who use more modern, statistical methods of predicting player success. The fear of being put out to pasture makes Gus put off eye surgery, risking blindness, so that he can go on a road trip to investigate a promising prospect that the Braves may take in the draft.
For fans of professional sports, that's not a misprint. The film represents the modern sports world as one where there is no video of prospects, no Internet, and where teams will invest millions of dollars on a first-round draft pick based on the report of a single scout. That the film gets basic details wrong about the business it depicts is less offensive than it is evidence of lazy writing. The film is simply not interested in the baseball setting; it is merely a context for the father-daughter drama to play out.
Unfortunately, that part of the plot is most conventional and hence the most predictable. Gus's friend and supervisor (John Goodman) asks Mickey to keep an eye on Gus during the trip, despite the fact that she has a crucial presentation coming up that will determine whether or not she is named a partner at her law firm. Is there any doubt that years of family conflict will dissolve with a few hours of bonding over amateur baseball? Mickey has a boyfriend who is so obviously not right for her (he is aligned with the snobbish scouts by saying that their relationship looks great "on paper") that their break up—and Mickey's eventual pairing up with a young scout from another club (Justin Timberlake as Joe)—seems not just possible, but inevitable.
It's not just the broad strokes of the plot that are predictable; the surface details are as well. Early in the film, Gus visits the grave of his dead wife and recites the lyrics to "You Are My Sunshine." Is there any question that this song will be echoed at a key moment? Any suspense about whether the star prospect will turn out to be the real deal evaporates when he taunts his teammates and makes a racist remark to a peanut vendor. Even the eleventh hour complication that momentarily threatens the budding lovebirds is fairly easy to anticipate.
Eastwood, Adams, and Timberlake are performers of such talent that they can often rise above weaker material. Here, though, Gus is unfortunately too similar to Eastwood's character in Gran Torino to be particularly memorable. It is another riff on the "grumpy old man" character with most of the development coming in the form of angry, bitter monologues addressed to nobody in particular that act as a window into what the character is thinking because the film doesn't know how to show rather than tell. Adams and Timberlake fare marginally better, in part because they are put in a slightly broader range of situations. Ultimately, though, it is hard to say that these people are any nicer or more interesting than Gus, just younger and prettier.