Tom Hanks, Geena Davis and Madonna star in this major-league comedy from the team that brought you Big. Hanks stars as Jimmy Dugan, a washed-up ballplayer whose big league days are over. Hired to coach in the All-American Girls Baseball League of 1943, while the male pros are at war, Dugan finds himself drawn back into the game by the heart and heroics of his all-girl team. Jon Lovitz adds a scene-stealing cameo as the sarcastic scout who recruits Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis), the baseball dolly with a Babe Ruth swing. Teammates Madonna, Lori Petty and Rosie O'Donnell round out the roster, taking the team to the World Series. Based on the true story of the pioneering women who blazed the trail, on the fields and off, for generations of athletes.
Imagine, sports fans, watching your favorite league lose some of its most recognizable names and faces to military service. Imagine the owners and the fans dreading every day, knowing the hometown hero who slugged his team to victory the year before could wind up killed half a world away, or seeing entire minor league systems vanish due to their populations being decimated by the draft. With today's professional sporting leagues featuring a more global feel, it's much harder to grasp the scenario that saw names like Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, Warren Spahn, Bob Feller, Phil Rizzuto, and Pee Wee Reese putting on an entirely different uniform and putting their careers on hold. It was a different time.
Major League Baseball played on through the war, through the loss of some of its brightest stars. One team owner went above and beyond the efforts of his peers, founding the AAGPBL (All-American Girls Professional Baseball League), putting a bat in the hands of Rosie the Riveter as all female teams cropped up in Kenosha, South Bend, Racine, and Rockford. The league would exist in various forms for eleven seasons, with fifteen different teams coming in and out of existence, eventually leading to a Hall of Fame exhibit in 1988 called Diamond Dreams honoring the belles of baseball. A few years later, the ladies would get another tribute by way of Penny Marshall's 'A League of their Own,' a fictionalized tale about that first season that would earn over a hundred million dollars domestically.
A tale of two sisters (Geena Davis and Lori Petty) as much as it is a tale about baseball, girl power, coming of age, love, and loss, 'A League of Their Own' blends a star cast with an important piece of history, and an interesting storytelling dynamic to make a film that's enjoyable for all ages and all genders. The true story of the AAGPBL is altered dramatically in this film, perhaps entirely because of director Penny Marshall's leanings. In this film, we see a fine mixture of truth (where players had chaperones, attended charm school and beauty courses in the pre-season) and absolute fiction (the pitchers in the film throw overhand using what look like regulation baseballs, on regulation baseball fields, when in truth it was an underhand league with a larger ball and shorter distances between the mound and plate, and between the bases), in an attempt to further sway us to cheer for the women across America who took on the men's duties while they were away at war. Though heavy-handed at times, the film's message shines through and the drama and comedy unfold wonderfully.
For everything done entirely brilliantly, other portions confound, yet 'A League of Their Own' regularly holds its own. The baseball action is incredible, all things considered. The women played with old fashioned gloves, weren't allowed to use batting gloves (leading to blisters and other fun!), threw and slid like men. We see the same idiosyncrasies and traditions most ball fans grew up with. Better still, the film mirrors real life Hall of Famer and former coach in the AAGPBL, Jimmie Foxx, in Tom Hanks' Jimmie Dugan character. Hanks is a scene stealer at every turn, embodying one of the few men in the film, while delivering one of his more memorable (and less dominating) performances. He compliments the actresses in every scene.
Casting decisions like Madonna or Rosie O'Donnell may irk some modern viewers, and while Rosie is herself in every which way, it's fascinating how well Madonna performs. Before she earned her Golden Globe, she puts on an amazing performance, at the peak of her beauty, with believable ball talent meshing with natural line readings in one of the more memorable, saucy roles in the flick. But the film is more than just its main actors, as the supporting talents truly shine, as we come to care about the entire team, each representing a varying facet of the lifestyles women faced in the 40s, leading to some of the best moments in the film featuring right fielder Evylyn (Bitty Schram)'s young child Stilwell (Justin Scheller) being forced to travel with the team on road trips. It's the attention to these minor details, ham-handed as they come across sometimes, that make the film magic. From the homely yet Ruth-ian force (Megan Cavanagh) who almost isn't allowed in due to her tomboyish looks, to the all-American cover girl (Tracy Reiner, Marshall's daughter), and even Alice (Renee Coleman), the ritualistic backup catcher who takes tradition a few steps too far, there's depth at every position on the field and in the cast.
Infinitely quotable ("There's no crying in baseball!"), stacked with layer upon layer of back story, loaded to the hilt with talent, and surprisingly sprinkled with genuine humor, 'A League of Their Own' is a winner, one of the best baseball movies out there. It may be sacrilege to actual history, and probably has more anachronisms than any other film of its kind, but this important story, fictionalized as it is here, is inspiring to say the least, and the end result is something to be genuinely proud of for each and every member of the production. This was not an easy film to make, and could have been one of the bigger flops of its era, but all the pieces came together for a solid, enjoyable film that both kids and adults will appreciate.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Sony brings 'A League of Their Own' to Blu-ray on a Region A/B/C BD50 disc. There is nothing special about the packaging, the menu design, or even the pre-menu content, as they're all trademark Sony, for better or worse.
Sony's Blu-ray release of 'A League of Their Own' isn't a travesty, nor is it a must-own disc.
This catalog title, presented in 1080p (AVC MPEG-4, 2.40:1) has some problems. Minor color fluctuations can be hard to miss, including varying brightness levels that get annoying as can be. There's grass that's sometimes sharp, sometimes flat and dull (the same goes for shrubbery and foliage in general). Greenery also turns a neon tint in a few sequences. Contrast levels aren't exactly the sharpest, colors are overly subdued, there are a few bits of noise (including the Columbia logo, now that one is a nightmare), a few moments where skin tones look purple, and more than a handful of sequences that feature softer picture.
Yet, for all those drawbacks, the picture is amazingly clean and stable, with fantastic edges that give way to some solid, borderline awesome at times, stray hair popping. Picture depth is often fantastic, whites are pearly, and black levels seem natural, maybe a little on the light side (which would correspond with the lighter colors in general). It's hard to miss the finer details, though, the kicked in and worn out patterns in dirt, the fantastic texture of the baseball uniforms, the individual strands of hair, or the realistic settings, all in a picture free from banding or artifacting.
Sometimes a 90s film surprises me when it hits Blu-ray, hitting all the right spots, with ahead-of-its-time sound design providing an engaging listening experience. This is not one of those times.
'A League of Their Own' is presented with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, and while it may ring true to the film's audio design, the dated nature of the material is a bit of whiplash-inducing compared to some of its peers. The rear channels get a nice bit of activity from the score, particularly when it swells in a few dramatic moments, but for the most part they remain barren. The soundtrack has a few tiny, almost insignificant moments where it registers some bass activity, but, again, that's about it. Most of the noise in this track hits front and center with very little play from anywhere else, with a few localized bits of dialogue (background, mind you) coming from the front side channels. I will say that, yes, this track does feature appropriate dynamics, and there's no problem understanding any words (outside of some of Dugan's intentionally unintelligible ravings), but watching the film, you notice the bits that just aren't there, the powerful crack when a bat hits a ball is weak and doesn't resonate like it does in real life, the audience doesn't sound as full as it should.
You know what would have been amazing, and hilarious? An episode from the TV series of the same name, made by Marshall and Hanks after the success of the film. Sadly, it was not to be.
'A League of Their Own' is one of my favorites. Every time I see the film, I catch another little reference or allusion (sometimes being bonked over the head for two hours by the overt ones means the hidden bits might slip past), and with every viewing, I appreciate the effort and real hard work put into the making of the movie, as the end result is truly professional. It's also a historical boondoggle of epic proportions, with countless inaccuracies (the "induction" of the women into the Hall of Fame, the bookends to the film, being a major issue, as a display does not mean induction!) sullying up an otherwise enjoyable experience. But I still love this flick. This Blu-ray... I'm not a fan, but I don't hate it, either. I'd recommend a viewing for the film's merits alone, and a purchase for fans.