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Friday Film Review: Bull Durham

Bull Durham (1988)
Genre: Sports Comedy/Drama
Grade: A

I’ve always had a special fondness for this movie since I was in school nearby when it was filmed, oh, way back when. It’s a film that works on a lot of different levels and you don’t have to enjoy all of them to find something to like about the movie. It’s also given me a great curse to use when I’m pissed off.

The Durham Bulls minor league baseball team is off to their worst start in years but they have a young pitcher, “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) who just might have a million dollar arm that could take him to the major leagues (aka “The Show”). But he needs seasoning so management brings in older catcher “Crash” Davis (Kevin Costner) to work on Nuke’s 5 cent head.

Someone else who’s working on Nuke is Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon), a local junior college teacher who passionately follows the team to the point of choosing one young man a season to share her bed. This year the choice is between Crash and Nuke until Crash bows out because he’s not interested in anyone who’s interested in “that boy.”

As the season progresses, Crash’s instruction helps Nuke catch fire, the Bulls start to win and Annie and Crash strike sparks. But when the majors call, what will happen to Crash’s career and Annie’s philosophy on life?

For those of you who don’t know what “Bull Durham” means, the Durham Bulls team is a minor league baseball organization located in Durham, North Carolina. The name comes from Bull Durham tobacco which is how the JB Duke family began to amass their pile of filthy lucre. Anyway, a minor league team generally is associated with a major league team and serves as a place to groom those who show promise for the big league (aka “The Show).

Crash is obviously onto Annie’s psychobabble bullshit early on. Yeah he wants to get physical with her but he’s beyond the competing stage that she wants to instigate between him and Meat. While Meat, as Annie says, will put up with just about anything if he thinks it’s foreplay. I love how Crash turns this inside out when he tells Meat to “respect the streak,” e.g. not doing anything that might ruin the team’s winning streak. Not doing anything means not having sex with Annie which drives her nuts.

Annie gets to be a sensual woman with no social repercussions. She is, as she puts it, serially monogamous for the season but she picks a new man each season and no one calls her a slut, tramp, or whore. She’s also an open intellectual, though some of her theories are crap, but again, no one puts her down for using her brain.

Crash can’t help but feel frustrated with Meat sometimes. Here’s a man with the arm needed to make it big but he doesn’t have the appreciation for the opportunities open to him. It’s the older man vs the young hotshot, the seasoned veteran who knows what’s at stake vs the rookie who thinks it’s all ahead of him. All Crash can do now is watch and coach Meat so that maybe Meat can see a little bit of how fleeting this moment of glory truly is and savor it while he’s got it.

The coaching gibberish that Larry yells during the games cracks me up as does the conference on the mound on breaking curses and wedding presents.

[Larry jogs out to the mound to break up a players' conference] Larry: Excuse me, but what the hell’s going on out here?
Crash Davis: Well, Nuke’s scared because his eyelids are jammed and his old man’s here. We need a live… is it a live rooster?
[Jose nods] Crash Davis: We need a live rooster to take the curse off Jose’s glove and nobody seems to know what to get Millie or Jimmy for their wedding present.
[to the players] Crash Davis: Is that about right?
[the players nod] Crash Davis: We’re dealing with a lot of shit.
Larry: Okay, well, uh… candlesticks always make a nice gift, and uh, maybe you could find out where she’s registered and maybe a place-setting or maybe a silverware pattern. Okay, let’s get two! Go get ‘em.

Don’t worry if you don’t know about/hate/don’t understand the game of baseball. I don’t particularly care for it myself. As I said, the movie works on several levels so it can be a film about the game and the people who play it/love it or it can be about people who just happen to be involved in baseball. It’s almost the perfect date movie. It’s got something for everyone and does a good job at both.

It’s funny, it’s poignant, it’s realistic and it doesn’t rely on smaltz – the last minute home run or catch that miraculously saves the day. In the end, it’s not Crash, who probably deserves to go back to the Majors, who does. Instead it’s the young, slightly less arrogant, Nuke. Even Annie learns something by the end of the film.

The chemistry between all three is great. The dialogue is spot on and it’s obvious that the actors are loving their roles and the movie. Unlike movies that build up to a climax of the season, Bull Durham is about the long season. It’s the endless bus trips, crappy motels, and make-do facilities that these players have to deal with. It’s the silly Promotional Nights and trips into Nuke and Crash’s heads while they’re at bat or on the mound. It’s about the joy of a game on a sultry summer night when things go just right and the experience becomes transcendent.

Watch it to see how the minor leagues operate, watch it to see two people working out a mature relationship and certainly watch it for Crash’s statement on life.

“Well, I believe in the soul, the cock, the pussy, the small of a woman’s back, the hanging curve ball, high fiber, good scotch, that the novels of Susan Sontag are self-indulgent, overrated crap. I believe Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone. I believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing Astroturf and the designated hitter. I believe in the sweet spot, soft-core pornography, opening your presents Christmas morning rather than Christmas Eve and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days.”

~Jayne

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

21 Comments

  1. Sandy James
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 05:20:22

    That soliloquy always makes me sigh like Annie. “Oh my…” Great movie!

  2. Alix
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 06:00:42

    This is one of my favorite movies. I never get tired of watching it. One thing you didn’t mention is the fabulous soundtrack — everyone from Edith Piaf to Joe Cocker, and all of it carefully chosen to fit the scene. The soundtrack’s almost a character in itself.

  3. Stephanie Draven
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 06:49:17

    I’m weird, but I think this is one of the sexiest movies ever made ;)

  4. Beth
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 06:54:16

    Absolutely one of my all-time favorite films. The scene on the mound never fails to crack me up. And, let’s not forget Nuke’s singing “she gets wooly…” :-)

  5. Jayne
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 06:57:23

    @Alix: You’re right. The soundtrack is great. I love that the songs support the movie instead of trying to stand out on their own. Does that make sense?

  6. Kati
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 07:23:40

    Love. This. Movie.

    I love that Annie is so unabashedly sexual, smart and female. And it has to be said, Susan Saranden never ever looked better, nor did Kevin Costner for that matter. I believe it’s the movie where Susan Saranden and Tim Robbins met and began their long relationship.

    But the dialogue is fantastic and as you said, Jayne, the chemistry between all three is fantastic.

    My favorite line of the movie?

    “The flower goes in front, big guy.”

  7. Jana J. Hanson
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 08:09:32

    I absolutely LOVE this movie! Love. It.

  8. Virginia Kantra
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 09:57:51

    The scene where he’s painting her toenails?

    Be still, my heart.

  9. Chicklet
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 10:02:07

    Yay, you did this movie! It’s one of my absolute favorites, and you listed almost every reason why. The only one you missed was this exchange at the bridal shop:

    Millie: Annie, do you think I deserve to wear white?
    Annie: Honey, we all deserve to wear white.

    Oh, and…

    The scene where he's painting her toenails?

    Be still, my heart.

    Apparently that scene was Costner’s idea. :-)

  10. StacieH4
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 10:28:16

    One of my favorite lines comes after Nuke shakes off Crash’s pitching instructions. Crash is pissed and tells the batter what pitch is coming. The batter hits it out of the park. When Crash goes out to the mound to talk to Nuke he says, “Anything that flies that far ought to have a g*ddamn stewardess on it.”
    It’s always the first line that pops into my head when this movie comes up.

  11. Lori
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 10:32:41

    Best romantic movie. Best.

    Now I’m feeling all soggy and sentimental thinking about it.

  12. Jayne
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 11:16:23

    @StacieH4: I always feel sorry for the poor Bulls mascot when he gets repeatedly nailed per Crash’s instructions to Nuke to fake out the opposing team batters.

  13. tigerfan
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 11:44:02

    Absolutely one of my favorite movies. But at the risk of dating myself, it was released in 1988, not 1998. Hard to believe it’s more than 20 years old.

  14. Susanna Kearsley
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 11:55:31

    Jayne, you’ve done it again :-) I love this one, too.

    I AM a big baseball fan, so I loved this on a lot of levels, and I’ve never been able to watch a conference on the pitcher’s mound the same way since… (I always DID wonder what baseball players were talking about, out there!)

  15. Jayne
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 13:59:15

    @tigerfan: Thanks for catching my slip of the fingers. I only wish I’d still been in school 10 years ago…

  16. Kaye
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 16:50:56

    I didn’t like this movie when I saw it years ago, but always wanted to like it (if that makes sense), especially since so many people have a soft spot for it.

    Your review and the comments convinced me to add it to my Netflix queue. Maybe a different frame of mind is what I need for appreciating it.

  17. Jayne
    Dec 04, 2009 @ 18:34:55

    @Kaye: I hope it works better for you this time.

  18. Cecilia March
    Dec 05, 2009 @ 13:58:37

    I believe it's the movie where Susan Saranden and Tim Robbins met and began their long relationship.

    Yes. And what amazes me is that I can watch the movie, knowing that, and still believe 100% that Annie belongs with Crash, not Nuke. Fabulous, fabulous chemistry between Sarandon and Costner.

  19. Jayne
    Dec 05, 2009 @ 14:01:39

    I love the way the movie ends. Not on some fantastic kiss as the violins swell but quietly sitting on a poarch swing on a rainy afternoon contemplating a job next season in Visalia.

  20. Janine
    Dec 05, 2009 @ 14:44:39

    It’s been a long time since I saw this movie, but I remember liking it a lot. It was probably a B+ or so for me. The speech and the sex are the parts that stick in my mind the most.

  21. Janet W
    Dec 05, 2009 @ 21:52:50

    Bull Durham has had changed the way I regard baseball … and that’s saying a lot. We have season tix for the As, just behind the umpire: I see a lotta ball! And whenever they go to the Pitchers mound, whenever I hear an interview, I think Bull Durham. Couldn’t love a movie more! Even if they do call baseball groupies Annies (which is just plain mean!). Her sexual confidence, the love of the game, Costner at his best best best … OK, time for a re-watch!

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