Thursday Editor’s Pick: A League of Their Own (1992)

by on March 15, 2012Posted in: Editor's Pick

Playing Thurs March 22 at 7:00 at 92YTribeca [Program & Tix]
*Baseball historian Sue Macy and original player Eileen “Ginger” Gascon provide 30-minute introduction
Yup. Let Alt Screen indulge our childhood nostalgia with this one. Ah those days when Madonna and Rosie O’Donnell were best buds, Geena Davis (pinch-hitting, in fact, for Debra Winger) seemed the most beautiful woman in the world, Lori Petty had a burgeoning film career, Tom Hanks was still hamming it up in refreshingly non-Oscar bait roles, and you knew all the words to the All-American League gals’ song (Wait, you probably still know those. Or is it just us?) We promise it holds up!

In honor of the 20th Anniversary of Penny Marshall’s retro Girl Power specatcular, a half-hour discussion will precede the screening, with author and baseball historian Sue Macy and original All American Girls Professional Baseball League player Eileen “Ginger” Gascon, moderated by Nona Willis Aronowitz.


We proceed gracefully and grandly through our tour of appreciation…

Vincent Canby for the New York Times:

“A League of Their Own” is one of the year’s most cheerful, most relaxed, most easily enjoyable comedies. It’s a serious film that’s lighter than air, a very funny movie that manages to score a few points for feminism in passing.
“A League of Their Own” has its share of obligatory lines. At a sentimental moment, Jimmy Dugan must say, “There’s no crying in baseball.” He must also define the game for the women: “Baseball is what gets inside you. It’s what lights you up.”
“A League of Their Own” is so good that it can accommodate such stuff and still leave one admiring its skill, humor and all-American enthusiasm.

Even Jonathan Rosenbaum found a soft spot and a surprising reading in this crowdpleaser, for The Chicago Reader:

It’s sentimental and overlong, the period dialogue doesn’t always sound authentic, and one has to put up with some strident overplaying by Tom Hanks. But most of what makes this movie about the wartime All American Girls Professional Baseball League score in spite of such drawbacks is the way it’s been deftly structured by director Penny Marshall (Big) and writers Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel to resemble a 40s musical (albeit, somewhat anachronistically, one in ‘Scope); the rest is mainly streamlined and spirited teamwork.



Jezebel posted an appreciation of the film, a few highlight responses from the comment section:

cowboy killer
When Shirley Baker can’t find her name on the list? I bawl. And bawl. Every single time.

“So you quit drinking?”

“No, I just can’t afford it.”

This is my absolute favorite movie that has ever happened.

Also, I will take any opportunity to say “Anyone ever tell you you look like a penis with a little hat on?” You’d be surprised how many opportunities come up.

I hate watching sports movies, with very few exceptions. This movie is one of those exceptions and I LOVE IT.


Madonna was fucking brilliant in this movie, and it made me sit through the awkwardness that was Swept Away just hoping to see a glimpse of All The Way Mae. But no. No. There was no glimpse. No shimmer, no spark, no cat call, no vision. Just blackness. Sheer, wrenching blackness. The kind of blackness you find at the bottom of a bottle of vodka and a night of regrets.


I was on the F train into queens last week around midnight, and this fat little kid traveling with his family was getting fussy, clambering around his stroller and running up and down the car. Then suddenly his mom pulled out a huge Hershey bar and he gasped and smiled and ran down the car to her and went to town on that thing.
All I could think was “Stillwell angel, have another chocolate bar!”



Cole Abaius for Film School Rejects:

It is rarer and rarer that a movie like this is even made. I’d even go far to say that they don’t make ‘em like this anymore, but that would sound cliche, and you’d think I’d be able to come up with something more original. Well, I can’t. But the point still stands. Director Penny Marshall has made a movie that’s funnier than most comedies and has more depth than most dramas all based off a strange (but true) concept. It celebrates feminism and female achievement without shoving it down anyone’s throats, presents all the aspects of the time period whether light-hearted or heart-breaking, and never fails to entertain.
Great scenes and lively characters are one thing, but the film rounds itself out by not trying to be a soft-focused look at women playing baseball. It feels like a real movie because of how gritty it gets. One one end of the spectrum, the comedy is broken up by the constant fear of Dottie’s husband being overseas fighting Germany and brilliant scenes like when Betty Spaghetti receives word that her husband has died while fighting in the Pacific. The air is let out of the room as soon as you see the messenger, every girl in the room stands frozen assuming its them getting the bad news, and when Jimmy hands Betty the telegram there’s a beautiful swirl of emotion from girls sighing relief and then breaking down for their friend’s intense loss. It’s as perfect a scene as you’d ever hope for in a drama. Just absolutely perfect.
On the other end of the spectrum is the reality of how crass most of the people are (which is sort of lampooned within the aforementioned finishing school sequence). Sure, A League of Their Own swings the pendulum from gut-wrenching laughter to gut-wrenching drama, but it also has Jimmy telling the umpire he looks like a penis with his little hat on and prays about having his balls be plentiful. It’s that balance that keeps it always moving. From a touching scene between Marla and her father to Lovitz’s Ernie mocking her for not hurrying up, from the joy of finding your name on the list to a touching moment where one woman who can’t read stands helpless in front of the posted pages, the movie juggles between the two extremes to create something extraordinary. Somehow this film perfectly weaves together all the intimate moments that you’d get with a dynamic group while making you feel the dirt of the mound underneath your feet, because, above all, it’s a sport movie with a climactic World Series ending. A long, harrowing journey with laughter and tears that leads up to nine innings that makes all the difference.


Penny Marshall and Rosie O’Donnell discuss casting:

Making-of featurette with cast and crew interviews:


AMC has a whole roundup of trivia. At ESPN, a baseball aficionado declares the film “30 percent truth and 70 percent Hollywood,” with comparisons of real vs. reel history. Eleanor Quin with some background on the film for TCM.
The Funny Feminist revisits why this “feminist classic” is still her favorite movie – as an adult:

1. Dottie Hinson: the woman who has it all?
One of the main emotional arcs in the movie has to do with the rivalry between sisters Dottie Hinson and Kit Keller. Dottie has the complete package: not only is she an exceptional ball player, both as a catcher and a hitter, but she’s also statuesque and beautiful. Having a husband overseas fighting in the war makes her the perfect symbol for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Kit, meanwhile, has to live in her sister’s shadow, and boy does she resent the hell out of Dottie. Even though Dottie “has it all,” she clearly doesn’t want it all. She’s not comfortable when Ira Lowenstein dubs her the “Queen of Diamonds,” she’s not comfortable with being singled out among her teammates, she’s especially not comfortable with being singled out for her beauty, and her frustration with Kit’s resentment is palpable. As talented as she is, Dottie is insistent that she’ll stop playing in the league once her husband returns from the war. This is a decision that neither Kit nor Jimmy fully understand, and I think Dottie herself knows she won’t be completely satisfied with a life without baseball. I like that her choice isn’t clear-cut as a good or a bad one, and I like that Dottie shows that she doesn’t have to do something just because she’s good at it.
2. Jimmy Dugan: a fully developed male character in a movie about women.
I’ve seen far too many movies about men that have the Token Girl character. The Token Girl is usually the wife or girlfriend or sister of the Important Male Characters, and she usually exists to complain about how much time the Important Men take away from their families to follow their passion or work or sport or something. Jimmy is the male character of note in A League of Their Own, but he has a character arc and distinct personality traits and everything. He is much, much more than the Token Guy in a women’s movie. What would happen if all movies about men had characters with fully developed female characters? I should also mention that this is by far my favorite performance from Tom Hanks. I also love the subtlety in the relationship between Jimmy and Dottie. He clearly falls for her by the end of the movie. He knows it, she knows it, and her husband knows it, but it remains subtext because they all know he’ll never do anything about it or push at any boundaries. Neither of them comment on it and he doesn’t pine away for her for all time. He knows she’ll never return his affection and he’s okay with it. It’s just so…mature.
3. The movie celebrates all women.
(Or, I should say, all young, cisgendered, heterosexual, white women.) But the women of the Rockford Peaches make up a fairly diverse group. Sexually promiscuous women like Mae are just as likable and celebrated as devoted wives like Betty Spaghetti. Marla, the “ugly” woman, is still an amazing hitter and still ends up married to a loving husband. Doris, always believing that she’ll be the “funny friend” to her sexy friend Mae, gets two fanboys during the championship series. The women on the Rockford Peaches are brassy and quiet, domineering and submissive, sexual and chaste and everywhere in between. They make up a wide range of personalities and we’re meant to root for them all equally.



Betsy Bozdech for DVD Journal:

More than just an interesting look at a story that might otherwise have been forgotten as a historical footnote, A League of Their Own is a smart, funny movie that continues to entertain with every new viewing. Thankfully, it’s because director Marshall and screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (City Slickers, Splash) took the time to create memorable, fleshed-out characters and cast them well. Most of the principal actors turn in career-highlight performances, from Davis as Dottie, who seems perfect on the outside but is really just as confused and scared as anyone else, to Hanks’ Dugan, a character who perfectly combines the actor’s talents at both drama and comedy (Dugan gets several of the film’s best one-liners). Petty does a good job capturing a little sister’s hopeless jealousy of her older, prettier, more talented sibling, and Madonna and O’Donnell are both excellent — interestingly, O’Donnell’s part was rewritten to suit her after Marshall decided that the comedienne had to be in the movie. Thanks to Marshall’s insistence that all her actresses attend a rigorous baseball camp before filming began, the action scenes are just as convincing as the dramatic ones — these ladies can really play. It’s the kind of enthusiasm and commitment that often helps distinguish a memorable movie from one that’s merely entertaining.


New York Magazine’s Daily Intel reports that Hilary Clinton quoted the film in a 2009 speech:

In the movie A League of Their Own, made great by the presence of Madonna, Rosie O’Donnell, and Geena Davis, Rockford Peaches coach Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks) gives Dottie Hinson (Davis) a memorable lecture when she sneaks away from the team after her husband returns from war. “It just got too hard,” she explained, to which Dugan replied, “It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard … is what makes it great.” Today, at the NYU graduation in Yankee Stadium, legendary hard-worker Hillary Clinton delivered the last part of that little speech as part of her commencement address to the assembled new graduates. “If it were easy,” she said, “anybody could do it.”


Brandi Sperry writes an open letter to Penny Marshall to direct more movies, for The Macguffin:

We see qualities of sincerity, charm, and a confident mood in another fun film you made, 1992′s A League of Their Own. Most women I know count this among their go-to feel-good movies, and I’ve been a fan since I was a kid. There are few films made about women, by women, that manage to be perceived as being unwaveringly for everyone. A League of Their Own seems to accomplish that with ease, but I know that it must have been a difficult thing, given the nature of the dominance of male stories in Hollywood. It’s worth noting that almost two decades before the Bridesmaids phenomenon, this primarily female-driven comedy made $107 million at the domestic box office.
Women who have directed multiple well-performing, popular, enduring, quality, mainstream films are sadly rare, in no small part because of lack of opportunity to nab those great scripts from a major studio. I spend a lot of my time researching, watching, and writing about films made my women, and while there are impressive works in all genres and levels of film, it seems like many of the most talented women choose to focus their work in the indie world—or have no choice but to do that. This makes for some great art. But it doesn’t make for the kind of power I want to see women in Hollywood have: the same power as men. Big was the first film directed by a woman that grossed over $100 million. You will always have the distinction of being the one who crossed that threshold, and while I know that it’s rationally an arbitrary one, in the Hollywood system it has real meaning. Your successes must mean that you have opportunities that some other female directors, who would love to be working on those types of studio films, can’t get as easily. I have to believe that it still means that, since it would for a man. And I would love to see you return to creating those kinds of films, because your talent for it can’t be questioned.



Nicholas Croston for Lit Bases:

It takes great writing to work a character into historical context while still making them forward-thinkers. In that respect, A League of Their Own is a remarkable achievement. A League of Their Own is the story of a women’s professional baseball league set up during World War II. Many of the characters in A League of Their Own are women who wonder about their roles in the country and in life itself, and when someone started up a professional baseball league for them, they jumped at the opportunity looking to break free of their roles. Their euphoria, though, is dampened slightly when they’re informed that they can’t walk around and act like the big, tough, manly ballplayers. They are expected to be dolls, babes, ladies, and so they’re explicitly instructed to act like it. They’re put into etiquette classes and are forbidden to drink, smoke, or chew tobacco. They’re also a bit wary of the short dresses the league commissioner is forcing them to wear, well aware of the fact that dresses would hinder their sliding abilities. There is naturally a bit of unrest among the crowd of women, and ordinarily in a movie like this, full-blown rebellion would follow and the commissioner would repent for the error of his ways. In A League of Their Own, though, there is only some initial unrest, followed by the commissioner taking control of the situation by reminding them that there are a lot of women who didn’t make it into the league, any of whom would play in a bathing suit if he asked it of them. Even though these are clearly strong women, they are forced to concede that point, and so they settle down and seethe on the inside.

I’ve previously lamented that all sports movies are going to have cliches, but A League of Their Own at least has interesting, original ways of playing them. First of all, Marshall doesn’t dwell on them. If there’s a cliche necessary, Marshall doesn’t slow to ultra-saccharine slo-mo bullet time to place the dramatic emphasis on it. Apparently she hates sports movie cliches as much as I do, and so she plays them out normal speed with no fanfare or emphasis in order to get them out of the way.

I get the sense that in A League of Their Own, Penny Marshall wanted to give a sense of her own story. There aren’t a lot of full-time female directors running around in Hollywood. I can only name four off the top of my head – Marshall, the great Amy Heckerling, the fantastic Sofia Coppola, and Oscar winner Katheryn Bigelow – and I was a film student. In that sense, Marshall knows about the prejudices that go with trying to break through in what is typically considered a man’s world, even in an area which is supposedly a bastion of progressive politics. Marshall knows the territory better than most, and is therefore the person who is not only capable of telling the story, but the right person to tell it as well.



Roger Ebert for the Chicago Sun-Times:

“A League of Their Own” follows many of the time-honored formulas of sports movies, and has a fair assortment of stock characters (the plain girl who gains confidence, the brash girl with the heart of gold, the jealous sisters), but it has another level that’s a lot more interesting. After years of perpetrating the image of the docile little woman who sat at home caring for her lord and master, American society suddenly found that it needed women who were competent to do hard, skilled work during World War II. Rosie the Riveter became a national emblem, Hollywood threw out its romance scripts and started making movies about strong, independent females, and it was discovered that women could actually excel at professional sports.
The movie remembers this period from the present; it begins with Dottie Hinson, the Geena Davis character, now older, taking a trip to Cooperstown for ceremonies honoring the women’s league. What we learn about Dottie is that she never took women’s baseball all that seriously. She was the best player of her time, and yet, in her mind, her was simply on hold until her husband came back from the war. Dugan, the coach, tells her she lights up when she plays baseball – that something comes over her. But she doesn’t seem aware of it. This ambiguity about a woman’s role is probably in the movie because it was directed by a woman, Penny Marshall. A man might have assumed that these women knew how all-important baseball was.
Marshall shows her women characters in a tug-of-war between new images and old values, and so her movie is about transition – about how it felt as a woman suddenly to have new roles and freedom. The movie has a real bittersweet charm. The baseball sequences, we’ve seen before. What’s fresh are the personalities of the players, the gradual unfolding of their coach and the way this early chapter of women’s liberation fit into the hidebound traditions of professional baseball. By the end, when the women get together again for their reunion, it’s touching, the way they have to admit that, whaddaya know, they really were pioneers.



Cole Abaius again, in conclusion:

Who doesn’t love this movie? Point them out to me, and I’ll fight them. It’s the kind of movie that comedy filmmakers dream of making – it’s got heart which gives every comedic beat more life and allows the film to go into darker territory when it needs to. You get to see a little kid hit in the face. You get to see Madonna act slutty. You get to see Geena Davis slide into the splits to catch a pop-up foul. You get to see Tom Hanks peeing for an inordinately long time. If you can read that list and not get excited, I don’t want to know you.


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