Even if you haven’t seen A league apartyou’ve probably heard tom hank these famous words bark grumpily: “There’s no crying!” There is no crying in baseball! This line, while instrumental to the sports classic and deservedly iconic, casts a more silly shadow over a film steeped in heart, history, and hope. This is much more than a sports film. It’s a powerful story about the fragility of life, serving as a playful reminder to take risks and appreciate the people in your corner.
Penny Marshalla household name thanks to her acting work in a trio of TV juggernauts known as Happy Days, The odd coupleand Laverne and Shirley, seamlessly brings his keen sense of storytelling to the director’s chair. One of the reasons Marshall was a shoo-in to direct the beautiful film is because of his impressive ability to take on both comedy and drama. A few years earlier, she directed Hanks in the whimsical comedy Big so what robert deniro and Robin Williams in medical drama alarm clocks, who were both nominated for Oscars.
At the heart of A league apart is the close but damaged relationship between Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty), two sisters living in 1943 Oregon who work on a dairy farm and are damn good at playing baseball. They love sports the same way, but have different aspirations. Dottie, an expert receiver and versatile ball player, seems to have it all. She is beautiful, calm and hopes that her husband will return safe and sound from the war so that they can start a family. Kit, on the other hand, wants to make a name for herself somewhere and is constantly reminded of how pale she pales in comparison to her sister. She’s a sucker for “high-ones” who come to navigate the plate (which she most often misses) and is often bailed out by Dottie, the top player. Dottie always tries to build Kit, but Kit never lets her. Instead, Dottie patiently listens to her little sister whine about her blunders and what the hecklers said to her after the game: “Kit, why don’t you ask your sister to teach you how to hit?”
While Kit and Dottie are milking the cows, they receive an unexpected visit from Ernie Capadino (Jon Lovitz), a shrewd baseball scout looking to recruit female players for the next experiment known as the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Right now the country is in the middle of World War II and every Major League Baseball player is taken to the front line to fight. No players means no baseball, which for investors means no money. In an effort to keep the game going and people’s pockets full, Ira Lowenstein (the promotions expert of Walter Harvey, the league’s founder in the film) is tasked with figuring out how to keep the sport alive. Scouts are sent across the country to seek out the best and prettiest players who could form their own league. If Dottie was willing to try out in Chicago, then heck, Kit might come too.
As is the case with most movies where the cast fits like a glove (warning: baseball puns are here to stay), it’s hard to imagine anyone else in their respective roles. Geena Davis and Lori Petty’s chemistry as sisters is undeniable. (Debra Winger and Half Moore were the two options for the role of Dottie.) Davis carries Dottie’s maturity and complexity with ease, while Petty humorously leans into Kit’s childish frustrations and petty tantrums. The sisters unsurprisingly make the league and join the Rockford Peaches alongside a host of lovable characters. Pop star Madonna nailed the role of Mae “All the Way” Mordabito, a flirtatious central outfielder who always has her eyes on the male fan base, and her tough, unfiltered friend Doris Murphy is cleverly played by Rosie O’Donnell. Megan Cavanagh shines as simple and painfully shy second baseman Marla Hooch, who has one of the film’s most satisfying character arcs.
Lead the team (well, “lead” is enough generous) is Hanks’ Jimmy Dugan, a jaded former baseball player who simply takes that managerial job for the booze money. While Dugan could phone him in, Hanks’ performance couldn’t be more impressive. The scene where he greets his team for the first time by stumbling drunk into their locker room to relieve himself for a deeply disturbing amount of time is unmatched. It’s sure to dampen that persistent brash behavior (smoking and not learning someone’s name) with moments of genuine affection and gratitude, resulting in a character we not only root for, but deeply care about. . I think that Hanks guy is going far.
While men fought Hitler on the battlefield, women fought misogyny on the home front. For many, women having their own league was a truly confusing concept, and the film creatively and effectively addresses the real panic that permeated the era. If women left the kitchen, how was society supposed to operate? Who would raise the children? Could women—panting-lose their femininity? Not only A league apart put an entertaining and educational spin on a narrow chapter of our country’s history, it’s sure to highlight the positives that also came out of it. Getting “dirt in the skirt” (slipping in the base) was considered a badge of honor. Husbands would proudly shout “she’s my wife!” when their spouse had a particularly impressive moment on the pitch. Instead of shouting about a beautiful “Diamond Gal”, people were shouting about a nice catch one of them had made. In other words, being told you “throw like a girl” was officially a compliment.
There are many delightful subtleties and details that contribute to the film’s big heart, but what’s particularly powerful is how the story is executed. The film ends with Dottie’s current life in 1988, some 40 years after her glory days behind home plate. Before returning to the 1940s where the majority of the film takes place, we meet the much older Dottie who is unsure whether or not she should attend a team meeting. Carole King“Now and Forever” from who plays at the start indicates that the team surely meant a lot to Dottie, even though she dreaded attending the event. But the crossfade for most of the movie is a bold move with a huge payoff. It strategically creates a more immersive experience for audiences and turns the final scene at the Baseball Hall of Fame — where we see peaches past their prime come together all these years later — into an emotional punch.
A league apart will stay with you long after Madonna’s “This Used to Be My Playground” aptly plays in the credits. Besides making you wonder if a certain person intentionally dropped that ball in World Series Game 7, it will remind you to savor every fleeting moment and appreciate those who appreciate you. There may be no crying in baseball, but this photo will definitely leave you in tears.