Tuesday, April 23, 2013

"The Second Time"

I’m making progress, if by progress you mean being aware that you are doing something you want to do differently but you continue doing it the same way rather than actually doing the thing differently.  That last step – the literal change in behavior – that’s a big one.  But I still feel I have moved in the right direction – still doing something, it’s true, but being aware that I don’t want to anymore.  I like to believe that’s a behavioral step forward.  Which is also a step forward in my optimism.  Though it could be a step forward in my self-delusion.  These things are not simple.

Can you please stop this and tell the story?

All right – I was just clearing my throat.  So okay, recently, I re-watched the film Moneyball, which is a “based on actual events” – my favorite form of fiction – accounting of how the cash-strapped Oakland A’s revolutionized the game of baseball by employing overlooked computer generated factoids to determine which players they should sign to provide them with the best chance of winning, despite having a rock-bottom payroll.

When I first saw Moneyball, I was not overly impressed.  The movie itself seemed cheap, skimping, I imagine for budgetary reasons, on the on-field action, where the true excitement of the game is taking place, in favor of showing us extended scenes of telephone deal-making, which are understandably cheaper.  I’ll bet they weren’t even using real phones.

The story was also not the most arresting, crescendoing with the A’s 20-game string of consecutive victories, at best, a seasonal asterisk to baseball fans not living in Oakland.  The team assembled by the revolutionary recruiting system did not advance far in the playoffs, let alone get anywhere close to the World Series, making it a movie about a team trying something different doing surprisingly well, though, in fact, no better than the Oakland team of the year before that did equally well with the old system. 

My overall reaction was, it’s a baseball movie – always a plus for me – and it had some performing charms (particularly an unexpectedly winning Jonah Hill.)  But from a story standpoint, it did not particularly hold water.  A little water, maybe, but not close to enough to quench my thirst.  For a more compelling storyline.

(Note:  Moneyball was rewritten by Aaron Sorkin, in whose other screenplays – most notably A Few Good Men and The Social Network – I have detected elements of a bluff – basically, style over substance.  Moneyball felt the same to me – a tap-dancing gloss instead of a story I found genuinely satisfying.)

And then, I watched it again on cable.

And suddenly, where on the first viewing, I was unable to see the trees for the forest, I was now overwhelmingly won over by the trees.  

“Take Two” of Moneyball – the movie is a charming little gem.  Yes, the production’s low budget, but what is more appropriate for a movie about a low-budget baseball team?  The message is resonating – two Little Engines That Could.

On second viewing, the interstitial moments start to pop – the wounded reactions of the scouts as their tried-and-true methods are ignominiously rejected; the stricken expression of the catcher suddenly demoted to the minors; the humanizing interludes where the movie’s lead character, the team’s General Manager who is taking a huge chance that could easily blow up in his face assures his daughter than he is in no danger of getting fired.

Jonah Hill’s nuanced performance, a revelation compared to the Judd Apatow-movie riffing we’re familiar with, I recognized on the first viewing.  But I did not anywhere near sufficiently notice Brad Pitt, ditching all forms of Oscars-vote luring “look at me-fulness” for the gestures, tics and superstitious maneuvers of a driven, out-on-a-limb executive, who, having been a celebrated washout as a player, is determined to prove himself in the game.

Brad Pitt’s performance is a wonder to behold.  And so underplayed that I missed it completed, focused instead on the insufficiencies of the plot.

I was not wrong about what I originally didn’t like about Moneyball.  But the ancillary components that had previously eluded me are delicious.

Why didn’t I see that in the first place?

Because story matters to me more than anything.  And it always will.  But it’s time to accept that all stories have some holes in them, and take notice of, and pleasure in, the creativity attended to the elements.  Someday, I might even come out of the theater saying, “The story made no sense, but, you know in that living room scene?  The coffee table was sensational!”

In the meantime, I will settle for this.

Last weekend, we saw The Sapphires, a film about four young Australian aborigine women who form a singing group and perform for the troops during the Viet Nam War. 

The girls are delightful; the guy (who played the policeman in Bridesmaids) holds the picture together.  Overall, the movie made me genuinely tear up, and put a smile on my heart.

And I shall happily leave it at that.

The story was a little…

Stop it!


1 comment:

Mac said...

Sounds interesting, I shall check it out. Brad Pitt was a huge revelation to me in "The Assassination of Jesse James..." He's utterly mesmerizing in that. Anyone who can carry any film for three hours without your arse dying of numbness is a great actor.