Some Westerners complain that Taiwanese art films require far too much background knowledge on the viewer's part. But, for the uninitiated, American baseball movies can be far more inscrutable.
Little Big League is an example of this genre. It is full of fond references to baseball lore, cameos by contemporary players, and endless montage sequences of games. Yet it is neither a mythic essay on the sport like Field of Dreams (1989), nor a rousing saga of success on the field like Hoosiers (1986).
Basically, it is a modest, pleasant film for kids – or, more exactly, for boys. Twelve-year-old Billy (Luke Edwards) plays baseball in the little league and knows every fact and figure of the game's grand history. His father is dead, but his grandfather (Jason Robards) is one of those lovable, eccentric rich types we haven't seen in movies since the era of Frank Capra.
This sweet, old man lives not for wealth but for fun, and when he dies he leaves management of his Minnesota big league team to Billy. The players – a multicultural mob of macho, droll, insecure guys – are none too happy about the situation.
Billy takes the team out of its doldrums, but the film does not become an unlikely tale of success against all odds. Its real question is: can Billy remain just a fun-loving kid? In rapid succession, he ignores his buddies, develops alarmingly adult fits of depression and – horror of horrors – starts watching porno movies when on tour with the team. Now it is his mother (Ashley Crow) who is alarmed.
Little Big League definitely lacks a certain élan. Its romantic subplot, involving Billy's mother and a sensitive father figure on the team (Timothy Busfield from television's thirtysomething), is underplayed to the point of vanishing. And there are perhaps a few too many baseball games set to jaunty rock or Cajun tunes.
Come to think of it, just why do American filmmakers invariably illustrate shots of men running around a baseball field with songs that pontificate on the loose morals of "Runaround Sue", or offer advice on "the stuff you gotta watch if you don't wanna lose your girl"?
Male sexuality is indeed a dark continent.
© Adrian Martin September 1995