tek's rating: ¾

A League of Their Own (PG)
Chasing the Frog; IMDb; Rotten Tomatoes; Sony Pictures; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
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Caution: potential spoilers.

This came out in 1992. I don't recall when I first saw it, but it must have been sometime in the 90s. (In 1993, there was a far inferior sitcom of the same name based on the movie, which lasted only five episodes. I probably saw that before I saw the movie, but again, I don't recall for sure.) Anyway, I didn't see the movie again until 2016. I remembered that the cast included Geena Davis, Lori Petty, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell, and Jon Lovitz, but I didn't remember any of the characters' names, or any details of the plot. I just knew it was about women playing professional baseball during World War II. And I didn't remember particularly liking the movie, the first time I saw it. I'm sure I didn't dislike it, but for years now, I've vaguely thought my initial reaction was kinda "meh." (Or, if we're talking about my actual rating system, I would guess I would have given it about one and a half smileys.) But when I watched it after all these years, I found that I liked it a lot more than I did the first time. I also found that there were some familiar actors I didn't remember, including Bitty Schram (whom I know best from Monk), Anne Ramsay (whom I know best from Mad About You), Garry Marshall (who's vaguely familiar from various things), Bill Pullman (in a minor role as Dottie's husband), David L. Lander (in a small role as a radio commentator), and Téa Leoni (in a very small role as a rival player; I don't think she even had lines). I was also a bit surprised to find that I barely recognized Lori Petty, and probably never would have guessed it were her if I hadn't already known.

So... the movie starts in 1988 (according to Wikipedia; I didn't notice a year mentioned, in the movie). An old woman named Dottie Hinson is cajoled by her daughter to attend the opening an exhibit at the Baseball Hall of Fame, honoring the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which existed from 1943 to 1954. Dottie had played in the league during its first season, but she's reluctant to go to the event. (During this scene, I thought Dottie sounded like Geena Davis, and I wasn't quite certain whether the character was played by Davis in old-age makeup, or by a different actress. But I learned online that it was a different actress, though Davis dubbed the dialog.)

The movie then flashes back to 1943. Because of the war, many male baseball players are unable to play. So I guess a group of team owners decide to create a women's league. (I think the only team owner we see is Walter Harvey, played by Garry Marshall.) A talent scout named Ernie Capadino (Lovitz) recruits potential women to play in the league. We first see him watching a game whose players include Dottie Hinson (Davis) and her younger sister, Kit Keller (Petty). Ernie wants Dottie to join the league, but she'd rather stay on the family farm and wait for her husband, Bob, to return from the war. (Actually, I was thinking Ernie approached Dottie and Kit while they were milking cows on their own farm, but now that I think of it, Kit did say they worked in a dairy. Maybe they were at work when he approached them, and I'm just super-oblivious. Either way, I do want to mention that one of the things I most remember from the first time I saw the movie was Ernie telling them how much they'd make per week in the baseball league, and Kit saying they only make $30 at the dairy. So Ernie says, "Well then, this would be more, wouldn't it?" For me, that's the second most memorable line from the movie.) Anyway, Kit is extremely eager to join the league and get away from home. Ernie isn't really interested in her, but agrees to give her a tryout if she can convince Dottie to come. Which, of course, she does. On the way to Chicago for the tryouts, they stop off so Ernie can scout another woman, Marla Hooch. She's obviously a great batter, but Ernie doesn't want her, because she's not conventionally attractive (which all the league's players are supposed to be). However, Dottie and Kit refuse to go on without her, and also her father makes an impassioned request, so Ernie agrees to take her.

When they all get to the tryouts, Ernie leaves. And the three women we'd seen him recruit meet some other recruits. The main ones (as far as the movie's plot is concerned) are Mae Mordabito (Madonna) and her friend Doris Murphy (O'Donnell). All of them, and several others, make the cut in the tryouts, and end up playing together on the Rockford Peaches. The only other player on the Peaches that I can think of anything to say about is Evelyn Gardner (Schram), for two reasons. One is that her young son, Stillwell, eventually has to join her while she and the team travel, since her husband no longer wants to take care of him while she's away. (Which is kind of understandable, because he's very hyperactive and disruptive, a situation that probably isn't helped by Evelyn trying to calm him down by giving him chocolate.) I'll get to the other reason for mentioning Evelyn in a bit, but first, I must mention Jimmy Dugan (Hanks). Harvey hires him to be the Peaches' manager, a job in which he has no interest. But he takes it because he needs the money. Jimmy was a star player, until he had to quit after he hurt his knee, though the bigger problem is his almost constant drunkenness. Anyway, he attends the Peaches' games, but doesn't actually interact with them, let alone coach them. He doesn't even really watch the games, he basically just sits in the dugout and sleeps. So Dottie assumes the role of coach for awhile. But eventually, when public interest in the league begins to grow, Jimmy finally starts taking a more active interest in actually doing his job. Which brings me to the other thing about Evelyn: one of the main things I remembered about the movie was its most iconic line, "There's no crying in baseball!" which Jimmy shouts at Evelyn during one game, when she starts crying after he criticizes her performance on the field. (And now it occurs to me that I can't think of anything specific to say about Mae and Doris, even though they're more important characters than Evelyn.)

Anyway, one of the main themes running throughout the movie is the fact that Kit has always felt like she was living in her sister's shadow, which she deeply resents. It seems like almost everything Dottie does is to try to help her sister, but Kit always ends up resenting her even more. Sometimes this is because Dottie's efforts backfire, like when she tries to get herself traded to another team, but Kit ends up being traded, instead (to the Racine Belles, the Peaches' main rivals). And... various other stuff happens throughout the movie, most of which I don't feel the need to mention. But eventually Bob returns from the war, and Dottie decides to leave the Peaches. But she later returns to join them for the final game of the World Series, against the Racine Belles. This means Dottie and Kit are now opponents, which I think is a fitting metaphor for the sibling rivalry Kit has always felt toward Dottie. But they do finally reconcile, after the game. And then the movie returns to 1988, with old Dottie reuniting with her former teammates, as well as her sister.

Anyway, the movie shows us a lot of the sexism of the era. There were plenty of people (apparently including women) who were opposed to the idea of women playing baseball, believing it was too "masculine." (Watching the movie in 2016 really put me in mind of the current controversy over gender identity.) Ironically, while some people were worried about women being masculine, the league required the players to take lessons in etiquette, so they could be more "ladylike." Meanwhile, the uniforms they were required to wear included skirts, which none of the players were happy about (not just because of the inherent sexism, but also because of the practical problem of their legs getting scraped up when sliding into bases). And of course there's the (almost) ubiquitous rule that all the players have to be attractive. And there's the fact that the women are called "girls" (it's even in the name of the league). And there's the fact that at first, no one took the players seriously and there was very little interest in the league. (Which is, I guess, not quite historically accurate, but feels like it could have been. And it reminds me that even now, there are many people who like to mock the idea of almost any kind of women's sports... especially basketball.) And there's the fact that when the Peaches win their first game, commentators give Jimmy the credit, even though he didn't do a damn thing. (Although early in the movie, the head of the league, Ira Lowenstein, calls Jimmy out for his unprofessionalism. And later in the movie, Ira argues with Harvey on behalf of keeping the league going even after the war.)

Oh, and another thing I didn't pick up on, but which my friend Ellen pointed out, is that one of the Peaches, Shirley Baker, couldn't read. I mean, obviously I knew that, because there are a couple of scenes about that fact, including one where Mae teaches her to read. But what I didn't realize was that Shirley apparently had been intentionally prevented from learning to read, until then. Her inability to read was a plot point that I didn't give much thought to, probably because there have been so many shows and movies in which it turns out that one character doesn't know how to read, for any number of reasons, and it's at least as often a male character as a female, in my experience. (It was pretty common in the 80s and 90s, particularly in episodes of sitcoms, and like, after-school specials or whatever. So I think by the time I saw this movie, I was suffering from trope fatigue.) But Ellen pointed out that many women of the era in which this movie is set were expected to remain uneducated. So... there's one more thing for me to add to the list of sexist things the movie brings to light. (Though I do wish... I mean, I never heard anything mentioned about why she couldn't read. So maybe I'm just being oblivious again, but I do wish the reason had been made more explicit. Either way, I'm grateful to Ellen for the heads-up.)

Well, I guess that's about it. The movie is an interesting (if highly fictionalized) slice of American history, and it does a fair job of representing an important step in early feminism. Plus it's got some good humor and drama. And sports, if you like that kind of thing. (I reckon when I first saw this, I must have appreciated the feminism, though not as much as I do now. But if anything turned me off the movie to whatever degree, it was probably the fact that it's a sports movie, and I've never really been a fan of sports, regardless of the sex of the players. Though I've always found that fictional movies or shows about sports are way more entertaining than watching actual sports, so whatevs.) Anyway, it's a good movie, and I dunno what else to tell you.

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