If the Academy Awards gave out a special Oscar for acting in pairs, Clint Eastwood and Amy Adams would certainly win for Robert Lorenz’s Trouble With The Curve. As a father and daughter trying desperately to connect despite their own emotional limitations, Eastwood and Adams dance a graceful, nuanced, and keenly observed acting duet that stands among the greatest pleasures cinema has had to offer this past year. The two rely entirely on one another when they share the screen, each taking as much as they are given and always repaying the other’s efforts in spades.
This surely proves, as if it were ever in doubt, that Adams is a pantheon-level talent to be reckoned with, for I do not imagine going toe-to-toe with Eastwood is easy, especially when the man is in such transcendent form. This is the sort of gruff and feisty part Eastwood could play in his sleep, but he still gives the role his all, reminding us that beneath the icon remains an utterly magnetic, impeccable performer. In even the darkest of moments, Eastwood conveys a clear and innate humanity, one we connect with or find ourselves touched by no matter what our age. That is the mark of an all-time great actor, and Adams’ ability to not only keep up with him, but to stand on equally resonant footing, proves that few are better at their craft.
Eastwood plays Gus Lobel, a legendary baseball scout for the Atlanta Braves who finds himself tormented by old age. He feels alienated by the emergence of new technologies in the sport, and is worried his decaying eyesight may end his long career. When Gus is sent to scout a top prospect, his boss and friend Pete (John Goodman in a very good turn) convinces Gus’s daughter Mickey (Adams) to accompany and assist him, despite her and Gus’s wishes. The two are not necessarily estranged, but Mickey still resents Gus for being a distant and neglectful parent, and Gus’s difficulty in expressing his feelings often leads him to unintentionally lash out.
It is no spoiler to say that the scouting trip brings father and daughter closer together, as their relationship is gradually deconstructed and rebuilt on sounder footing. This is a simple and archetypical story, one we have seen in many other forms, but it is told here with tremendous passion and insight. Eastwood and Adams’ flawless work is certainly the largest contributor to the story’s success, but writer Randy Brown deserves credit for crafting characters that are consistently complex and three-dimensional. Brown paces their emotional rehabilitation expertly, allowing Gus and Mickey’s respective personalities to organically dictate the flow of development and never taking shortcuts on the path to healing. When Gus becomes too irritable or monstrous for Mickey to be around, or Mickey asks more of Gus than his guarded heart can deliver, Brown’s script refuses to pull any punches, aiming for a level of emotional honesty that Eastwood and Adams can run miles with.
So many stories of dysfunction between parents and children oversimplify the matter, distilling difficult issues into easily digestible plot points, but Trouble With The Curve has a sharp, intuitive understanding of how painful unconditional love can be, especially when one cannot fathom how to express it. Though the particulars of Gus and Mickey’s relationship are unique, the crux of their story is a universal one, for whether it be generational, philosophical, or temperamental, there are always barriers that separate us from our parents, or parents from their children. Trouble With The Curve is, at heart, an ode to the spirit that compels us to work our hardest at tearing down those barriers, day by day, even when it seems that nothing will come of it. Illustrating both sides of this equation is what allows Eastwood and Adams to perform a duet of such immense power, and provides the emotional hook that will, I think, make the film an undeniable proposition to audiences.
There are plenty of other elements for viewers to latch onto outside the core relationship, most of them more relaxed or comedic in nature. Justin Timberlake plays a former pitcher Gus once scouted, and offers a charming and compelling presence that helps keep things interesting when Eastwood and Adams are not the focus of the story. The role is an excellent fit for Timberlake, especially once it becomes clear that his character acts as the archetypical Type-B love interest for Type-A Mickey. Like the father/daughter material, the romance overcomes familiarity on strength of performance, chemistry, and writing, and is organically heartwarming and humorous even at its most predictable.
Were it not for an absolutely outstanding finale, I would say things become a bit rougher expanding outward from there. Brown’s script seems to overextend itself at times, focusing on obnoxiously one-note creations like the arrogant teenager Gus has been sent to scout, or Matthew Lillard’s insufferable upstart suit who bears a grudge against Gus. But I found myself forgiving these issues once the end rolls around, and each of these characters are involved in a climactic scene so satisfying, so perfectly calculated and emotionally rewarding, that I can forgive over-articulated characterization in the early going. Trouble With The Curve is not a sports movie in the conventional sense, but the ending surely ranks among the most memorable dénouements in sports cinema history. It is the sort of magical movie moment audiences shall be discussing for years to come.
Trouble With The Curve may not, objectively speaking, be one of the absolute best films of 2012 – I sense that, despite its many strengths, the film would be content to operate in a much lower key if Adams and Eastwood did not so consistently raise the bar – but as a rich emotional experience, it is difficult to top. Few films over these past nine months have left me as fulfilled as this one, and though there are several outstanding pictures opening in wide release this weekend, Trouble With The Curve may be my sentimental favorite of the lot.