There's No Crying In Baseball: A League Of Their Own (1992)

I am an open fan of Penny Marshall almost entirely for her brilliant and constantly underrated film Big, one that deserves its own acknowledgement in this month of women oriented film reflection, particularly because she, undoubtedly, paved the way for women in filmmaking, at least as it relates to American cinema.  A League of Their Own, a film I decided on a whim to add to the list for this month, much to my surprise was a film directed by Marshall, although to be honest, the heavy sentimentality and concern for a traditionalist aesthetic certainly reflects the stylings of one of Hollywood's most iconic behind the scenes women.  A League of Their Own does get caught up in its own concern for cinematic fluidity and a desire to promote normalcy and tradition filmically, reflected in its use of spatially linear composition and highly stylized imagery to reflect historical groundedness.  I say these things not to discredit this film by any means, what Marshall offers with A League of Their Own is nothing short of brilliant and the perfect combination of cult classic and legitimate cinematic classic that this film has obtained is worth noting, not only because the film reflects sound classicist filmmaking, but that it also decidedly places non-patriarchal bodies within the forefront, even going so far as to choose a decidedly relegated group within history and push them to the center of a narrative.  One could spend hours discussing the ways in which A League of Their Own fails miserably in its acknowledgement of intersectionality, yet it is a period piece and to embrace some sort of sound racial unity would be to betray the very unfortunate realities of the era, something a film like The Help seems more than willing to embrace, even if it means betraying the historical realities faced by women of color during the era.  As I navigate through this month of women oriented films I am certain I will be opened up to new venues within filmmaking, notably within the experimental, with that in mind it is great to see a film like A League of Their Own exist as a counterpoint to the traditional filmic narrative, while also perfectly existing within its aspects.

So it is fairly well established that people know what A League of Their Own is about, even if they have never managed to view the film.  It is simple to describe it as a film about women playing baseball, when, in fact, it focus so much more on the gender complexities related to such an occurrence, particularly as it related to the realm of World War II America.  The narrative specifically focuses on two sisters who are hired to play in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, the decidedly  attractive slugger and expert catcher Dottie (Geena Davis) and her much more tomboyish, but equally adept sister Kit (Lori Petty).  In fact, it is a direct result of the scouting of Ernie (Jon Lovitz) that the two make it to tryouts, where they meet other equally skilled women, most notably the sultry "All The Way" Mae (Madonna) and the boisterous firecracker of a slugger Doris Murphy (Rosie O'Donnell).  If it were not enough of an expectation to assume that a bunch of women from various parts of the country could merge together to make a solid baseball team, the addition of their manager, former star baseball player turned raging alcoholic Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) certainly problematizes the situation.  As Dottie and Kit's team, the Rockford Peaches begin their career it is clear that they are not initially welcomed by society, in so much as various members of the crowd mock their gendered inability to play sports, yet through the brilliant leadership of Dottie they are able to attain respect and eventually a large fan base.  Yet success for the team does not result in a lessening of the very real existence of war occurring, particularly as it relates to Dottie whose husband has been fighting in the war, making each letter delivered during their season a moment of tension.  In the end, the Rockford Peaches make it to the playoffs, although not before the relocation of Kit to another team, resulting in an intense moment of sibling rivalry and while it is negative at the moment, the closing scenes clearly suggest that over time both would come to realize that they were engaging within a larger cultural revolution.

For the most part, A League of Their Own is an essentially positive consideration of women in film, in fact, one would be hard pressed to find a means by which women are outright degraded within the narrative, as long as class and race are excluded from the discourse.  However, while the film clearly mocks the bodied/sexual element emergent within the All-America Girls Baseball League existing, within in a cinematic sense it does very little to directly undermine it within the abilities of temporal distancing so key to filmmaking.  Where A League of Their Own does go absolutely right is in their depiction of the multiple bodies, particularly those that do not necessarily adhere to ideal beauty norms.  Sure the narrative depicts women like Mae and Dottie as "ideals," yet the other women, whose bodies are decidedly non-normative are able to obtain romantic relationships and become more self-empowered in the process.  A cynical reading of this film could criticize the emphasis on heteronormativity, but that would be a bit ungrounded, firstly in the overlooking of A League of Their Own very much existing as a period piece and second in the problematic association with women is sports and an automatic lesbian identity.  A League of Their Own certainly has moment in which lesbianism can be read into the scene, overall sexuality factors in very minimally, aside from the decided heterosexual relationships pursued by a distinct handful of the group.  Perhaps the most revolutionary moment of gender interactions occurs with the relationship of the girls to Jimmy who begins his role as manager with a heavy degree of patriarchal pride, only to dismiss it when he realizes its negative effects on his team, not to mention its problematic entrenchment within oppression.  By the way, I just returned from a Women's Studies conference, so my preoccupation with these terms is somewhat understandable, but no less important.

Key Scene:  The tryouts really set the stage for the remainder of the film and help to show the magic of a film helmed by Penny Marshall.

Yet again, one benefits from having Netflix Watch Instantly should they want to watch A League of Their Own.  I highly recommend doing so, if, at the very least, for the history lesson.

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