Sunday, 30 August 2015

A League Of Their Own (1992)

This adorably sweet sports movie from Penny Marshall boasts a feminist take on the genre that still has an important message today - especially when one considers the growing interest (and about time too!) for women's football here in the UK in light of their successful World Cup campaign this summer. 

A League of Their Own tells the story of the All-American Girls' Professional Baseball League, which was founded in 1943 to keep the sport alive whilst the men's game became a casualty of the Second World War. When the war ended, the men returned home, baseball resumed and the days of the women's game were numbered; they eventually shut up shop in 1954.

In rural area of Oregon, a wisecracking scout played by Jon Lovitz spots two sisters, Dottie and Kit (Geena Davis and Lori Petty), one who can catch and hit, the other who can throw but whose Achilles Heel are the high, fast balls. He sees some merit in the pair and brings them to Chicago for tryouts with a lot of other aspiring ball players, including Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell and Megan Cavanaugh, hoping to make it on the team managed by former golden boy Tom Hanks, now a washed up alcoholic with a dodgy knee.

The Hanks character represents initially the general disinterest the American baseball crowds feel towards these girls, viewing them as little more than an amusing distraction at best and, at worst, women who simply do not know their place. But slowly and surely he's won over by the commitment and talent these girls have for the game and soon the crowds too are bewitched. It's also interesting to explore here how his character is a man who naturally had every skill and every opportunity at his disposal but wasted much of it through a fug of alcohol, whilst these women never had such an opportunity to waste at all until now and are shown to be unlikely to ever go down the same route.

Marshall's film may follow the tropes of the sports movie genre and may suffer from a certain level of stock-characteritis, but what's undeniable here is the important feminist stance it makes. During WWII women were suddenly recognised as a crucial part of the wear effort and the home front, their participation a necessity. It got them out of the kitchens and shattered the image of the docile domestic housewife and home maker, replacing it with the truth of strong, independent women. The film effectively tells us this tale of transition, about how it feels for these characters to suddenly find themselves in situations which offer them new roles and a sense of freedom. And it's bittersweet too, as we see in the present day scenes which bookend the main action just how this burgeoning liberation was all too sadly swept aside. I'm not totally convinced by these scenes but I do believe they were much needed; their reunion is a touching acceptance of their trailblazing nature - and a reminder, to our shame, that they blazed so brightly but all too shortly.  It's not an uncommon tragedy either; women's football here in the UK could have eclipsed the men's game after the First World War where it not for the FA banning it outright in 1921, a ban that was not lifted until fifty years later and largely ignored until this year.

But A League of Their Own doesn't beat you around the head with this message, not does it challenge the audience, provoking them into tut tutting at the reach of the stifling patriarchal society into the world of sports. It just tells its story through engaging characters and believable scenarios and winningly, leaves you asking the question for yourself; was this fair? Watching those real women of the AAGPB play once more, now old but not lacking in spirit, over the closing credits (accompanied by Madonna's touching This Used To Be My Playground) I defy you to think that it is.

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