A League of Their Own April 10, 2018
2 Hrs., 8 Mins.
he material that informs Penny Marshall’s A League of Their Own (1992) is not history re-written — it is history underwritten. The film revolves around the very real All-American Girls Professional Baseball League – a division that allowed female ball players to do their thing in Fenway lite and beyond while the men were away at war – and as much rouses us as it does frustrate us. Why did it take so many decades for a mainstream celebration of the AAGPBL, whose run lasted from 1943 to 1954 but was at its peak during the World War II-era, to materialize?
Such is the magic of movies, I suppose. When a particularly effective film involves a largely forgotten real-life subject, it has the potential to elevate a topic’s standing in the public consciousness to later-in-life pervasiveness. See Moneyball (2011), Argo (2012), The Post (2017).
Evidently this sort of thing has become a reality since A League of Their Own’s 1992 release. It made a splash at the box office, was a critic’s darling, and has since become a modern classic to which we can dependably return. The “there’s no crying in baseball!” outcry via Tom Hanks has become among the most indelible of movie quotes; the film has also become the only movie besides Dick Tracy (1990) in which Madonna was featured a tertiary role and didn’t take us out of the reverie of everything else. Recently, the feature was declared “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress.
All this, inarguably, is what the AAGPBL deserves. A League of Their Own is, after all, unambiguously one of the great crowd pleasers. It is able to be rewatched and everlastingly adored without ever losing the additional exhilaration brought on by seeing these valiant women confront norms and alter the status quo.
It is also an evocatively nostalgic movie, as well as an effortlessly likable one. While it works as a cheery, rose-colored snippet of history, it is also a bittersweet and perhaps universal reminiscence – a prevailing illustration of those periods when you recall the days of your life when the world was in front of you and you were something of your very own conqueror.
The movie begins in 1988, and the former ball player Dottie Hinson (Lynn Cartwright) is prepping for a reunion. She’ll be meeting up with fellow AAGPBL players for the grand opening of an exhibit focusing on the organization at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Before she can so much as start reacquainting herself with her former teammates and pals, though, the film jumps back to 1943, the year the AAGPBL was incepted.
There, we see the candy magnate and Cubs owner Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall) decide that, in order to save the financially flagging Major League Baseball establishment, he and his fellow owners will have to bankroll a women’s league, which will presumably be their primary focus until men come back from fighting.
After this, we’re reintroduced to Dottie, who is fresh-faced, living in middle-of-nowhere Oregon, and played by an effervescent Geena Davis. A star softball player in her hometown, she and her somewhat less athletic kid sister, Kit (Lori Petty), are recruited and then put into one of the teams that will eventually come to define the three other AAGPBL crews. Some of their teammates include characters played by Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna, Anne Ramsay, and Megan Cavanagh, and all are defined distinctly enough that the familial rapport the movie ultimately goes for becomes convincing.
They will be coached by Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks), a former marquee Clubs slugger who treats his depended-upon alcoholic beverages more seriously than he does the team. They will go on to become Life magazine superstars and superstars in general. And then they’ll be more or less forgotten about after 1945 hits.
We more or less move through A League of Their Own with the same affection we reserve for a session of scrapbooking, then. What we’re witnessing may be from a bygone era that will never be recreated, and maybe all depicted wasn’t as glowy and sentimentalized as your brain’s made it out to be. But the merriness is nonetheless infectious, with a couple hints of melancholia peeking around the corner for the sake of emotional depth.
The game sequences are ones we’ve seen before, and the behind-the-scenes dramas, which detail detours into jealousy and infighting, are somewhat familiar. But Marshall, as well as her screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, aren’t attached to these formulaic ingredients. Prioritized here are the characters, who are smartly and multidimensionally developed; their relationships with one another; and the developmental arcs onto which they’re put.
These are people we’re fond of. So when the reunion-centric ending, which in other movies might come across as trite and saccharine, comes to light, we feel moved, not manipulated. A League of Their Own is one of the shining moments of ‘90s popcorn cinema; it is a film you can wear out like a pair of Adidas Originals and still find comforting and ageless. A-