The Perfect Game (2009)

Directed by William Dear
Written by W. William Winokur

For the most part, this baseball marathon has been significantly domestic, featuring very little in the way of international flair for the game. Of course, baseball is America’s game, and the movie business is mostly centered around America, catering to American audiences. But for a sport like baseball which is such a big deal in many other countries, I would have imagined that story line may have been played up a little more. To this point the titles which do explore international play have been very Japanese centric with the exception of Sugar. But Latin America is a hotbed for passion for the game and tremendous talent. It somewhat amazes me that a Roberto Clemente biopic has yet to be set to celluloid. Perhaps there is not a market for it. What The Perfect Game manages to do is bring to the fold two of the less common themes of the baseball movie: an international flair (Mexico) and the Little Leagues.

Set in Monterrey, Mexico in 1957, The Perfect Game follows the story of the Little League team from Monterrey which became the first non-U.S. team to win the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. With a bunch of kids who love listening to the Brooklyn Dodgers on the radio with the local priest Padre Esteban (Cheech Marin), the city of Monterrey decides to field a baseball team, but they lack a coach. After being sacked from the St. Louis Cardinals, Caesar Faz (Clifton Collins Jr.) moves back to Monterrey to wallow, but is soon called upon to coach the ragtag little leaguers. Soon, the team from Monterrey is crossing the boarder into Texas to compete in regional tournaments, shocking everyone with their superior play, including a reluctant female reporter (Emilie de Ravin) tasked with covering the team who soon falls in love with their enthusiasm.

The director of The Perfect Game, William Dear, has made a few appearances already on this marathon, though I have been less than enthusiastic about his entries (Angels in the Outfield (1994), The Sandlot: Heading Home) to this point, leading to a bit of dread when I saw his name attached with this film as well. But The Perfect Game is easily his best baseball film because it doesn’t fall into the schlocky conventions of The Sandlot: Heading Home, which is seriously lacking in production values, and while it may be as sentimental as Angels in the OutfieldThe Perfect Game is much more grounded in the reality of this team’s spirit and love of the game, which affords it the opportunity to communicate that passion for baseball, and its transformative powers.

The film is not without its weaker aspects, but the glossy, inspirational, sentimentality of the picture really suit the story being told. Things are often overplayed slightly for dramatic effect, and some of the performances suffer as a result of it, but the actors are charismatic enough to overcomes these moments, crafting their own time to shine on screen by being passionate about the project and the story of this remarkable team. Clifton Collins Jr. is the best of the bunch, as he often is, but Cheech Marin and Emilie de Ravin deliver caring performances as well. But the real star of the film is the bunch of kids, whose ache to succeed at the game they all love so dearly can only be compared with the kids from The Bad News Bears. A big difference between the two, however, is how The Perfect Game lacks a moment where the kids learn the game to become a better team. They’re not good, practice a little (not looking good doing it), and then are all of a sudden winning games in the tournament.

It’s hard to blame a movie for being what it is, which is why the glossy sentimentality I mentioned before perfectly suits this syrupy inspirational tale. If it weren’t for the credits telling me otherwise, I could have easily figured this to be a Disney production. In fact, it is still somewhat amazing that it’s not, but that is the level of production value and solid storytelling on display with The Perfect Game. Despite it’s title, the film is far from perfect, and yet it remains as entertaining and fun as a typical day at the ballpark, taking in a run of the mill game with no spectacular plays or particularly memorable moments. It’s still baseball, afterall.

**1/2 – Average

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