Photo: Warner Bros
Parents die a lot in movies. From "Bright Eyes," starring Shirley Temple, to Disney's "The Lion King," a parent's sudden death is a plot device that frees the hero or heroine to develop against the backdrop of tragedy. Life hurts: How will you deal with it, punk? All the "Godfather" movies, and countless others, are about the relationships between fathers and sons. And there are some really fine movies about fathers and daughters -- although "Trouble With the Curve" is no "To Kill a Mockingbird." In the laugh-tinged drama, a crusty baseball scout, Gus (Clint Eastwood), and his intimacy-averse lawyer daughter, Mickey (Amy Adams), gradually resolve their fractured relationship and exhume some tired secrets on a road trip to scout a high school slugger. "Curve" penetrated my defenses by appreciating the father-daughter bond in a way few recent movies have.
If the formula of the romcom is that the couple meets cute, the drama of reconciliation begins with events forcing family members back into each other's company after they have withdrawn to lick their wounds and get on with their lives. In this kind of drama, it's assumed that the characters can never be whole, or happy, if they don't operate on that festering familial wound. So, when Gus's failing vision starts threatening his career scouting for the Atlanta Braves and his behavior becomes increasingly erratic, his best friend (John Goodman) calls Mickey to come home and ferret out what's really going on with her father. He is prickly and stubborn; she is wounded and proud. They're clearly two peas in a pod, only it takes a long recruiting trip to Florida and a series of tatty motel rooms, a car accident, a bar fight, and a gentleman caller (Justin Timberlake) to get them to admit it.
The formula works in "Trouble With the Curve," in part, because the performances satisfy largely without straining. Even when the subject matter abuts Lifetime movie-of-the-week territory, the actors resist. Adams can do the easy ginger-haired charmer, but it's in the moments when the pretty-girl smile stops well before it reaches her eyes that the audience leans forward and takes notice. She shares too much and then withholds too much, as if there's slippage between the confident Mickey she created in college and law school and the motherless child abandoned by her father. Adams will get more attention for her steely wife in "The Master," but she's no less committed here, because this is her chance to act opposite the legend, Eastwood. She doesn't waste a take. As for playing papa, this is not the Eastwood of "Dirty Harry" or "Unforgiven." It's the lanky loser who talks with his fists seen before in the action comedies "Every Which Way but Loose" and "Bronco Billy." In some ways, it's a return to form, aging out the shaggy quiche-spurning Eastwood, a star whose masculinity both defines him and, occasionally, boxes him in.
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The movie has its maudlin moments. A graveside scene where Gus talk-sings a Rex Harrison version of "You Are My Sunshine" to his late wife, followed by a closeup of Eastwood breaking into tears, is too much on-the-nose information. And, then, as if that wasn't enough, later in the movie, Mickey picks up the tune. It reflects an insecurity on the part of first-time director Robert Lorenz (Eastwood's longtime assistant director). Lorenz doesn't yet know when to pull back and trust the material.
Despite the bumpy bits, the emotional truth of the bond between Mickey and Gus emerges organically in the quieter moments. That is what makes "Trouble With the Curve" worth watching and Mickey an empathetic character with whom many women can identify. The connection between daughters and fathers starts early, often as the father leads an active life and the daughter trails behind trying to keep up with knees that are at her eye level. As the father plays basketball (as mine did), or scouts baseball (as Eastwood does), the daughter shares his vision. It's as if they gaze at the world through one set of eyes. Or as Mickey says to Gus, "Spending every waking moment with my dad watching baseball -- those were the best seats in the house." Hankie, please!
The cast of 'Trouble with the Curve' talks to Yahoo! Movies: