Alison Carr only allows herself to watch Penny Marshall’s 1992 baseball film now and again, so we thought we’d seize the opportunity and ask for another viewing through more scrutinous – if still teary – eyes.
What and why: Not the sports panel show, but the 1992 Penny Marshall film based on the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League established during WWII when the male sports stars went off to war.
I am not sporty, but I’m not averse to a good sports film. Just like I am not going to run around the Nakatomi Building in a sweaty vest, but that doesn’t stop me watching Die Hard every Christmas. (Yes, Die Hard IS a Christmas film.)
Sports films are inevitably about the triumph of the underdog, and I have a real soft spot for a triumphing underdog. Especially if it’s against all the odds. I also enjoy montages. Ideally in slo-mo, but it’s not mandatory.
I don’t watch A League of Their Own too often because it destroys me. I usually start welling up about five minutes in when older Dottie gets on the coach to head to the reunion, and by the time the closing credits have rolled I’m a blubbering mess. I recognise the irony, considering that the film’s most famous line is: “There’s no crying in baseball,” but I can’t help it.
Sisters Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty) are farm girls in the 1940s Midwest, headhunted to join the first female pro-baseball league. Well, Dottie is headhunted (the one who actually hit the ball), but Kit can tag along.
They go, they try out (montage alert), they get picked to be Rockford Peaches alongside teammates Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna and Megan Cavanagh as my favourite, Marla Hooch.
When she says goodbye to her dad at the station, I’m howling. It’s barely 20 minutes in.
Into this ragtag team of women staggers Tom Hanks’s reluctant coach Jimmy Dugan. As the washed up ex-pro who spends the early games scratching his nuts, Hanks gives one of his best ever performances. Of course, Jimmy gradually comes to respect the team and prove he’s not so much of an arse as we first thought. Because, plot and character journey.
It’s no surprise that this is a film all about the perceptions of what women can and should do and how they should act. At first, the female teams are dismissed as a joke, a short-skirted sideshow. Players are sent to charm school, balancing books on their heads before heading out onto the field to get bruised and battered sliding to the bases.
Dottie plays as she waits for her husband to come home while Kit sees it as a chance to escape. All of the teammates in their different ways are torn between the old order and new ideas, roles and freedom.
It’s big stuff and it’s all in there, while at the same time being entertaining and feelgood with the usual sports film tropes. There are rivalries, camaraderie, adversities are faced and overcome, all culminating in the nail-biting will-they-win-the-league finale. SPOILER: they don’t. *Gasp*
Rated or dated: Completely RATED. The real AAGPBL ended in 1954 but the legacy of those pioneering women whose motto was ‘do or die!’ lives on. Indeed, women’s sport is arguably enjoying its highest profile to date. But there is still a long way to go.
The infamous tweet by the FA following the World Cup in Canada last year saw the returning women’s team being told they could “go back to being mothers, partners and daughters today”. Or in Rio, Andy Murray having to remind gaff-ridden John Inverdale that women’s tennis exists when the presenter hailed him as the first person ever to win two tennis Olympic golds. Venus and Serena Williams have four each.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to dry my eyes and sing a rousing rendition of the players’ victory song. Join in if you know it:
“Batter up. Hear that call.
The time has come, for one and all, to pla-a-aay ball …”
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Alison is a playwright and would-be tap dancer. She lives in Newcastle upon Tyne.