Judge Mike Rubino cries at baseball all of the time.
Our review of A League Of Their Own: Special Edition, published May 10th, 2004, is also available.
"Avoid the clap, Jimmy Dugan."
A League of Their Own is an epic sports film, a sugary nostalgia piece, and a broad characterization of wartime female empowerment rolled into a big, comic package. Released at the height of a vintage resurgence in the early '90s, this film celebrates its 20th anniversary with a solid Blu-ray treatment.
Facts of the Case
World War II put a stop to major league baseball, prompting Cubs owner Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall, Happy Days) to start a new league: the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL, for short). Fancy dress-uniforms are designed, clubs are established, and a country-wide scouting operation fields four teams…and the discovery of the league's best player, Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis, Thelma and Louise).
Dottie can catch, hit, and run (and look good doing it), so she was a natural poster girl for the league. She's reluctant at first, and only agrees if her kid sister, Kit Keller (Lori Petty, Tank Girl), can come with her. Together, the two travel to try-outs in Chicago and eventually wind up as Rockford Peaches—managed by recovering alcoholic Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks, Forrest Gump).
Over the course of their inaugural season, Dottie and Kit meet new friends—primarily "All the Way" Mae (Madonna) and Doris (Rosie O'Donnell); deal with a heartbreaking trade; and eventually face off in the league championship.
There are more movies about baseball than any other sport. Maybe it's the game's simmering tension, deliberate pace, and nuanced strategy. Perhaps it's the allure that comes from being our nation's pastime, a sport as American as apple pie. Whatever the reason, I find baseball far more entertaining and exciting on the silver screen. A League of Their Own, while by no means "the best" baseball flick out there (I, admittedly, don't know enough about the sport to judge), is a great sports film brimming with class and energy.
League ambitiously attempts to encapsulate the entire origin of the AAGPBL and its first season in a little over two hours. If it wasn't for the keen eye of director Penny Marshall, the efficient (if somewhat caricature-laden) script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, and the all-star cast, this film would have been as messy as the in-field fly rule. I'd like to say that's the last baseball line I'm going to use in this review, but I make no promises.
The entire movie is a balancing act of efficiency and detail. The costumes, scenery, and dialogue work together to create a world with depth and believability. Marshall's montage sequences fly by with the help of pounding swing music. The film's production design is as good, if not better than, every other 1940s-set movie to come from the '90s—and there's more than you realize.
Ganz and Mandel have a great talent for slowing the film down when it needs to focus, and picking up the pace with summarization. If there's any issue with League, it's that the last 20 minutes or so, back in the present, drag on a little too long. The film keeps its sentimentality and nostalgia in check until it doubles back on itself (weirdly making me nostalgic for the film I just watched…) No matter; the film's fun, heartwarming attitude is enough to make it a winner in my book.
Outside of the creative team, the cast elevates League beyond its thematic trappings. Led by Geena Davis and Tom Hanks, the Rockford Peaches are stacked with talented, funny actresses: Lori Petty, Rosie O'Donnell, Madonna, Megan Cavanagh, Bitty Schram, and Ann Cusack. The entire group has chemistry and feels like a real team. Davis and Petty are especially good together. They are both athletic, funny, and nuanced in their approach to the roles. Hanks, who only occasionally steals the spotlight, is aptly cast as the team's alcoholic manager. The rest of the supporting cast, from the various ball players to Jon Lovitz as a talent scout, are all fitting caricatures—broadly drawn and easily realized. From top to bottom, this movie has a dream team.
Twenty years after its premiere, League holds up remarkably well on Blu-ray. This release is essentially a re-hash of the last special edition DVD from 2004, but with a stellar 1080p transfer. The 2.40:1/1080p high-definition presentation maintains the film's bright range of colors while never feeling over-saturated. The picture looks remarkably clean, too, with hardly any grain. It's a very sharp transfer for a catalogue release. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is equally strong, with a solid balance of front-channel dialogue and booming swing music. Like any good sports film, League uses the sounds of the stadium to full effect.
The Blu-ray doesn't contain anything new in the way of supplements, but what's here is worth visiting. There's a commentary track with Penny Marshall, Lori Petty, Megan Cavanaugh and Tracy Reiner; 15 deleted scenes; a Madonna music video; and a great multi-part making-of called "Nine Memorable Innings."
A League of Their Own is a great sports film and an inspiring piece of history. The movie may be a tad long, but at least it's got a great cast, clever writing, and a heck of a lot of heart. If you haven't seen it, the excellent Blu-ray transfer is the way to go. Buyers beware: you may not need to upgrade if you already have the special edition DVD.
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