Blog Directory CineVerse: No bull, all Bull Durham

No bull, all Bull Durham

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Baseball season is underway, which makes now a perfect time to catch up on some baseball movie staples. One of the best remembered is "Bull Durham," which outshines many of its ilk for several reasons. We counted the ways last night at CineVerse and came away with a winning group dialogue about the movie. Here's our score sheet:

How does Bull Durham defy your expectations or surprise you in any way?

  • It satisfies on different levels and conforms to several subgenres, including the sports/baseball film, the romantic comedy, the teacher/pupil picture, and the coming-of-age movie.
  • As a baseball movie, it may leave viewers unsatisfied; we don’t see game-winning, heart-lifting heroics by the denouement, or some come-from-behind underdog tale, as in “The Natural.”
    • It’s also not sentimental or mawkish, as “Field of Dreams” or “Pride of the Yankees” are accused of being, and it’s not overtly silly like a “Major League” or “Bad News Bears” can be.
    • Instead, it’s a much more adult take on “athletes who play for the love of the game” (according to reviewer James Berardinelli) and the love affairs of the game’s lovers.
    • It also features a lot of privileged “inside baseball” matters that everyday fans don’t often see or hear in a sports movie.
    • “Those who complain that Bull Durham is anti-climactic are missing the point. The qualities that distinguish Bull Durham from so many other baseball movies are its low-key humor (in contrast to the overt jokiness of Major League and The Naked Gun), the smartness of the dialogue (see that above monologues), and its true-to-life depiction of what it's like to be an A-ball player,” wrote Berardinelli.
  • The casting of a 41-year-old Susan Sarandon was an inspired choice. Here’s a rare example of a middle-aged actress serving as the sexy love interest and proving to be quite attractive. Most filmmakers would likely choose someone younger.
    • Her character is also refreshingly different and played against type; she’s essentially a groupie who abandons her object of desire after the baseball season and moves on to a new prospect the following year.
  • This movie also features more sexual dialogue, imagery and situations than you’d likely expect from a film about baseball players.
  • With its street smart, snappy dialogue and sexually-tinged comedy stylings, this interestingly plays as a modern screwball comedy—only one not set in an urban milieu, as usual.
  • “In Bull Durham, Shelton casually refutes the puritanism that governs even classic screwball comedies. These films substituted good dialogue for sex, inadvertently honoring a fraudulent duality between intelligence and sensuality, which our society often assumes to be mutually exclusive. Instead, Shelton serves up sparkling dialogue and then allows us to see the fruits it eventually bears,” wrote Slant reviewer Chuck Bowen.
Themes explored in Bull Durham
  • Experience vs. skill and desire vs. ability. Crash has plenty of the former, while Nuke is graced with the latter but needs some coaching and guidance.
  • Overthinking life can get you in trouble. Consider how, when Nuke or Crash think too much, their performance suffers. This picture suggests that the mind and body often are at odds with each other.
  • Lust and short-term gratification vs. love and commitment. Annie doesn’t anticipate falling for Crash; she sees him, like other men, as a means of sexual gratification and security but doesn’t count on succumbing to love.
  • Sport as Dharma and baseball as religion.
  • The classic love triangle between a woman and two men, who each represent different needs and things to her. Consider, too, how Nuke, another point on the triangle, is manipulated by the other two so that they can send a message to each other.
Other films that Bull Durham makes us think of
  • For the Love of the Game and Tin Cup, also starring Kevin Costner
  • Bang the Drum Slowly
  • Fever Pitch
  • Major League
  • Summer Catch
Other movies directed by Ron Shelton
  • Blaze
  • White Men Can’t Jump
  • Cobb
  • Tin Cup

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