Monday, April 22, 2013
YOU: You have this hero. Lots of people hate him. One guy in particular mercilessly razzes him…
EXEC: A bully! So it’s a bully movie?
YOU: Yes! The ultimate bully movie.
EXEC: And eventually the hero has had enough and beats the living shit out of the bully! I love it! Feel-good summer fare.
YOU: No, no. The big twist is that he doesn’t beat the bully up.
EXEC: Huh? What?
YOU: His triumph you see is that he controls himself, takes the high road, doesn’t let himself be brought down to the bully’s level.
EXEC: He doesn’t fight? Ever?
EXEC: Well, then why the hell would anyone watch?
YOU: Because you admire his determination. You applaud his classiness. And you know the stand he takes will open the door for others.
EXEC: That’s not satisfying.
YOU: It is if I do it right.
EXEC: Well, maybe if you got a major star to play the hero.
YOU: No no, it should be a relative unknown.
EXEC: What?! Are you out of your fucking mind? At least tell me the setting is something hot and new that the kids can relate to.
YOU: It’s a period piece about baseball.
EXEC: Baseball won’t sell one ticket overseas! Jesus, every time Ken Levine does a post on baseball in his blog his readers scatter. No one gives a shit about baseball? Especially baseball before the modern era -- 2005. Does the team at least win the World Series?
YOU: No. They lose.
EXEC: Holy shit! You're killing me here! Are there any surprises? Anywhere?
YOU: No. Not really.
EXEC: Sorry, but no. I'm passing before you can say Jackie Robinson.
And yet, that’s exactly what does happen in 42, the story of the first African-American in baseball, Jackie Robinson. There’s no big payoff. The hero doesn’t blow up the villain's plantation. He doesn’t kill Hitler.
But what you’re left with is an elegant retelling of a story everybody knows. Jackie Robinson broke into baseball by conducting himself like a mensch. He faced bigotry among fans and fellow players and through sheer determination and talent rose above it all.
42 was quite stirring in spots and it did prove that with the right subject and creative team you could make a successful studio film that doesn’t adhere strictly to hokum Hollywood formulas.
42 is well worth seeing. It made me proud to be a lifelong Dodger fan. Proud to be a UCLA Bruin. And proud to be a citizen of Southern California where anyone could drink from the same water fountain in 1945.
By Ken Levine at 6:00 AM