I started this blog with the goal of writing positive reviews, regardless of how I personally felt about the artifact being scrutinized. My biggest complaint about critics is that they base their reviews around their subjective tastes, rather than a more objectified approach. For every work of art there’s an audience. I want my work to speak to those people.
One thing I’ve quickly noticed myself doing is reviewing things I like. I made an attempt to correct this with my assessment of the video game E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial as a work of art (found here) but even that artifact was something I was familiar with. With all this mind, I picked Million Dollar Arm as my next review based solely on the fact that this is a film I would avoid watching. I think this is worth noting before proceeding with this review.
Million Dollar Arm tells the movie version of a true story about a desperate sports agent JB, played by Jon Hamm, whose organization has a dearth of clients. His back against the ropes, JB and his partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi) come up with a plan to find a country that can be exploited for its talent in baseball. They reason that the only well that hasn’t been tapped is India, and soon find an investor to back their scheme. Cue the plane trip and Hindi music.
My first thoughts during the first half of the film was that this wasn’t bad and that maybe I had been wrong in my judgment of the film. When I saw the trailers for this film I immediately thought that this would be a sentimental piece of garbage–an easy cash grab that so many people are quick to soak up (that sounds a little harsh but I’d rather be honest and offensive than dishonest and pleasing). This was based around the sports based narrative (easily the most formulaic of genres) as well as the studio Disney that was attached to it. While the film fell into these trappings, it didn’t seem to knock me on the head with their manipulations.
Like I said, the first half was what I liked best. Jon Hamm has a ton of charisma and seemed like a perfect choice for the part (it’s the second half of the film where you really realize just how perfect for the part he is). The narrative moved at a swift enough pace. JB arrives in India and meets the charming natives, who include intern Amit (Pitobash) and Vivek (Darshan Jariwala). As the contest makes way we meet our two heroes: Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal). Add to this charming cast baseball scout played by Alan Arkin and you have an enthralling start to a film.
As the genre dictates, our two heroes are underdogs–both hate cricket and Dinesh’s father even frowns upon his son’s involvement. My biggest complaint of the film is that I didn’t see enough of these characters. We get glimpses of their lives, such as seeing Rinku’s home and family, but for the most part, the film revolved around JB.
Which brings my thoughts on the second half of the film. Once our heroes arrive in America, JB does a 180 and turns into a complete asshole. He ignores his burgeoning talent, finds them annoying, and blames them when he fails to sign a high profile client. Normally this wouldn’t seem like a big deal; I don’t get upset when a work of fiction has an unlikable or unrelatable character (something that seems to bug critics and audiences). However, what seemed odd about this choice was how extreme JB’s behavior became. Even more bothersome was that we never saw from Rinku’s and Dinesh’s perspective how they felt about JB’s behavior. The only thing we see is that they’re upset with themselves for not getting recruited. But this is not all. Both prospects even go so far as to make our asshole hero dinner in a cutesy–in movie way–date with a woman he’s interested in. The film settles for the white savior trope, and while this isn’t a problem in and of itself, it seemed to miss the point that this is Rinku’s and Dinesh’s story.
But all of his griping is what I wanted the film to be and ignores reflecting on what the film was.
The saving grace for the film was that JB’s asshole behavior plays into his character arc, as he learns to care about his protégés rather than business. This theme was dealt with far more subtly than in such similar films as Jerry Maguire (an obvious influence). The sports aspect of the film took back seat to the character development, something worth praising.
Also worth noting was the musical selection. The film did a great job of using Hindi pop and rap music to give the narrative a much needed sense of energy and fun. While A.R. Rahman’s score often settled for a sentimental piano melody, for the most part it felt refreshing and new.
Ultimately, Million Dollar Arm feels disjointed, as if its two films that have been slammed together. The first half is a sports film, the second half a character piece. Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the film. Sure it’s fluff, but it was competent fluff that was charming and humorous. Of course, I wouldn’t expect less from a film that employs Don Draper.