Thursday, January 16, 2020
A League of Their Own Is a Good Sport When It Comes to Delivering Heartfelt Comedg
Hey, speaking of baseball (talk about a segway!), Hanks takes on another darker role for a supporting part in A League of Their Own, a 1992 Penny Marshall directorial effort. The lead characters of this production are sisters Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty), two small-time baseball players who seem destined to spend their days being milkmaids. Kit is especially frustrated by this turn of events, she wants to go out there and make the world her oyster. She gets her chance when a talent scout shows up wanting to recruit Dottie for an all-ladies baseball team. Dottie won't go unless Kit gets recruited too so this pair of sisters are soon on their way to play some ball.
The two of them are soon put on a team alongside fellow players Mae (Madonna) and Doris (Rosie O'Donnell) while their couch is disgruntled former baseball player Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks). Dugan wants nothing to do with this job while the people this outfit have similarly low opinions about the prospects of an all-ladies baseball team. They may see it as a gimmick but A League of Their Own spends a considerable amount of time exploring these players as human beings for whom the chance to play baseball allows them a chance to realize they're not so alone in this world. American society tends to make women who don't fit a narrowly-defined mold of "normalcy" as being alone or outsiders but A League of Their Own reaffirms that such women are far from alone.
A League of Their Own hits its own home run in a number of the way it explores this concept while the complex relationship between Dotti and Kit is another highlight of the script penned by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandell. It's nice how neither member of this duo is boiled down to being a pure & simple antagonist or patron saint. Their individual interior motivations are always clear as a bell and such clearly defined perspectives make scenes where they're at conflict with one another extremely entertaining to watch. Meanwhile, Davis and Petty's authentically-realized rapport helps make it totally believable that these two characters are siblings.
On the other hand, Ganz and Mandell's script hits more of a strike in some instances of trying to execute ultra-broad humor. A League of Their Own does sometimes dovetail into gags that are on the predictable side of things, including a handful of jokes that feel counterintuitive to the films' spirit of inclusivity for women of all shapes, sizes and personalities. On the other hand, any of the gags involving the short-tempered coach played by Tom Hanks are a riot. It's totally not the kind of squeaky-clean role Hanks is traditionally associated with, but as said at the outset of the review, Hanks going off-brand frequently results in something special.
Hanks' extensive history with comedy means he knows just how to sell the comic timing of jokes like an extended pee gag or one perfectly-executed beat where he throws a baseball glove at a bratty child. Penny Marshall's work behind the camera also helps to no end in making sure these and other jokes are executed in as successful of a fashion. In addition to a sharply-realized comic sensibility, Marshall also has a knack for how to deftly execute the big emotional moments of A League of Their Own without fully embracing off-putting schmaltz. While it's cool to see Hanks deliver another shining example of why he's so good at playing roles beyond America's Dad archetype, the direction of Penny Marshall alone shows that A League of Their Own has plenty of virtues to offer beyond just a supporting turn from Hanks.