Retrowatch: A League of Their Own

Film and TelevisionA League Of Their Own (1992) ★★★★
Director: Penny Marshall
Writers: Kim Wilson, Kelly Candaele, Lowell Ganz, and Babaloo Mandel

I had my sister over for Thanksgiving and she wanted to know when I was going to write about A League of Their Own, which we saw together last week at Alamo Drafthouse for a special “champagne screening.” She said, “I saw you making notes . . .”

It’s true, I made notes—and then I lost them, which my sister will tell is typical of me. I wrote them on the back of the paper advertising the drink special: “There’s No Crying in Cocktails,” which is a mix of Maker’s Mark, lemon, sugar, and cava, and which I ordered. It was actually my second cocktail of the night, because my sister and I met before the movie to get a drink at the bar outside of the theater. We sat down next to a group of four women who were clearly going to the same screening as us, because they were all wearing the pink skirted baseball uniforms from the movie. As it happened, we were seated next to them in the theater. My sister asked the woman closest to us when she had last seen the movie, and she said, ‘Oh, a couple of months ago? I watch it all the time.’ The other women had also seen the movie many, many times. It was their comfort watch.

Meanwhile, my sister and I had not seen the movie since 1992, when it was in the theaters.

As with 1994’s Little Women, which I re-watched a few weeks ago, it hadn’t made a strong impression on me. I’d remembered it as kind of a cheesy movie, sort of like, “girls can play baseball, too!” But it’s not like that at all. Yes, the flashback structure is sentimental, but most of the movie takes place in the past in a series of brisk, comic scenes. It’s funnier than I remembered, and also smarter about feminist politics than I realized. For instance, there’s a woman on the team who has a young son that she has to take along with her on the bus, because her unemployed husband feels it’s beneath him to take care of him while she’s gone. The kid’s bratty behavior is played for laughs, but the movie is also aware that childcare is real issue for this woman.

I think there are a few reasons why this movie has become a classic. First: the comic pacing. There are just so many great scenes in this movie, the kind you want to watch again and again. There’s Geena Davis and Tom Hanks in a sign-off, as try to signal opposing strategies to the pitcher; Tom Hanks showing up drunk for his first day of work; Madonna swing dancing in a bar; Rose O’Donnell and Madonna getting into a fight; the team getting makeovers and going through charm school; Tom Hanks flabbergasted when his harsh coaching makes a player cry (“There’s no crying in baseball!”); Tom Hanks trying to speak gently, so as not to make a player cry; Tom Hanks trying to convince Geena Davis to stay; Geena Davis coming back to help in the play-offs . . . Even as the movie follows the usual sports movie formula, director Penny Marshall gives you time with each character. You feel like you get to know everyone even though you’re just getting a minute here and there.

Another reason I think this is a fan favorite is that it’s a movie about misfits. It’s kind of jarring that these women are considered misfits, because they’re athletically gifted, funny, attractive, and charming. Many of them, including the star player, Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) are married, conventional women of their time, who plan to devote their lives to child-rearing and supporting their husbands. But their skill at baseball makes them odd, and it’s not until they find each other that they realize they aren’t alone.

But, the most distinctive thing about this movie may simply be that there are a lot of women on screen at all times. I can’t think of many movies with a cast that is so female-dominated—and I can think of a ton of movies where the cast is entirely male with just one or two women in it. Also, hardly anything bad happens to the women in the movie. No one is physically harmed, and there isn’t any gratuitous nudity. It’s actually kind of hard to find movies like this, and I can see why the women sitting near us watched it multiple times, as a way to relax. I don’t know why Hollywood doesn’t make several of this kind of movie every year. Look at the success of the Pitch Perfect franchise, which was basically a sports movie. There must be dozens of interesting sports stories out there in our post-Title IX world—but please, I want the uplifting ones, not a movie about the abuse in gymnastics and running. I mean, go ahead and make those, too, but give women something they can watch with their daughters that won’t require a Big Talk afterwards.

Speaking of mothers and daughters, when I was leaving the theater, there was a mother-daughter pair leaving the screening. The girl looked to be about 10, and she said to her mother, “Now I know what I want to be for Halloween next year—can we get one of those uniforms? ” It’s funny, because I was thinking the same thing.



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