Friday Film Review: Bull Durham
Bull Durham (1988)
Genre: Sports Comedy/Drama
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?
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.”