Monday, April 13, 2015

Rookie of the Year

Directed by Daniel Stern and written by Sam Harper, Rookie of the Year is the story of a young boy who would pitch for the Chicago Cubs after getting his arm injured as it’s later healed with tightened tendons that gives him incredible pitching powers. It’s a film that plays into a boy wanting to be good in baseball where an injury would give his right arm something special as he would get to live his dream but also learn about the price of fame. Starring Thomas Ian Nicholas, Gary Busey, Amy Morton, Bruce Altman, Albert Hall, Dan Hedaya, Eddie Bracken, Daniel Stern, and John Candy. Rookie of the Year is a delightful film from Daniel Stern.

What happens to a boy when he gets injured during a little league game where his right arm is healed with tighten tendons that allows him to pitch at great speed where he would pitch for the Chicago Cubs? That is pretty much the premise of the film as it revolves around a 12-year old boy who just wants to be good at baseball but he’s never really had the chance to play until one day where he fills in and things go wrong when he slips on a ball and breaks his arm. Once his arm is healed, he learns that his tendons have tightened more than it should which allows him to exert great force where he would unknowingly throw a ball back from the outfield bleachers to home plate as he would get this attention from Cubs management. There, Henry Rowengartner (Thomas Ian Nicholas) would start out as a relief pitcher for the Cubs as he would be mentored by his hero in the aging starting pitcher Chet “Rocket” Steadman (Gary Busey) as he would also learn the dark side of being famous.

The film’s screenplay by Sam Harper doesn’t just showcase a boy living his dream to play in the major league but also be forced to grow up faster than he should when it comes to being used to sell things that he has no clue about. Especially when he’s being exploited by his mother’s boyfriend Jack Bradfield (Bruce Altman) as well as Cubs general manager Larry “Fish” Fisher (Dan Hedaya) as the latter is looking to take over the Cubs altogether from his uncle Bob Carson (Eddie Bracken). It is there that Henry learns about these things as it prevents him from being with his friends and just being a kid while Steadman, whose career is on the way out, tells him about not just his own bitterness about the game but also what happens when the gift that Henry is bestowed upon goes away. While there is an element of seriousness that plays into the world of baseball, Harper does at least maintain a sense of innocence as well as some humor into the world of baseball such as how Henry manages to enjoy the game.

Daniel Stern’s direction is quite simple as he shoots the film on location in Chicago and other nearby cities including Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park in Chicago as Dodger Stadium. Much of Stern’s compositions are simple as well as stylish that includes some low angle shots, close-ups, and medium shots to reveal what goes on in the field and at the dugout. Some of it is played for laughs as it involves Stern’s character Phil Brickma who is this eccentric pitching coach. Yet, Stern does maintain a balance of comedy and light-drama as it plays into a boy coming of age as a major league pitcher as he copes with not just fame but its demands where he would make a very adult decision. Stern’s approach to the story not only succeeds in making it accessible for a young audience but also in not talking them down with heavy-handed ideas about fame and money. All of which plays into the joy of playing baseball as its climax is set during a division playoff. Overall, Stern creates a very fun and engaging film about a young boy who lives the dream in pitching for the Chicago Cubs.

Cinematographer Jack N. Green does excellent work with the film‘s cinematography as it‘s very simple for the daytime exterior scenes while being straightforward for the interior scenes and some scenes set at night. Editors Donn Cambern and Raja Gosnell do nice work with the editing as it‘s straightforward with a few montages and some rhythmic cuts for the film‘s humor. Production designer Steven J. Jordan, with set decorator Leslie Bloom and art director William Arnold, does brilliant work with the home that Henry and his mom live in as well as the Cubs locker room.

Costume designer Jay Hurley does terrific work as most of the clothes are casual along with some design of the baseball uniforms. Visual effects supervisor Erik Henry does fine work with the minimal visual effects which often revolves around the fastball that Henry throws. Sound editor Stephen Hunter Flick does superb work with the sound from the sound of the crowd at the ball game to the sound effects of the fastball. The film’s music by Bill Conti is amazing for its orchestral score as it is filled with soaring string arrangements with elements of guitar wails to play into the thrill of sports as the soundtrack features elements of rock and pop music.

The casting by Linda Lowy is incredible as it features notable small roles from Colombe Jacobsen as Henry’s crush Becky, W. Earl Brown as the Cubs catcher Frick, Ross Lehman as Henry’s doctor, Tom Milanovich as the notorious Mets hitter Heddo, and cameo appearances from Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla, and Pedro Guerrero as themselves. Patrick LaBrecque and Robert Hy Gorman are terrific in their respective roles as Henry’s friends George and Clark who try to cope with Henry’s sudden fame which George gets jealous of. Daniel Stern is hilarious as the pitching coach Phil Brickma as he often causes some trouble to others or to himself. Albert Hall is excellent as the Cubs manager Sal Martinella who always mispronounces Henry’s surname while Dan Hedaya is superb as the Cubs general manager Fisher who would exploit Henry in the hopes of making money and become the Cubs’ new owner.  Bruce Altman is fantastic as Mary’s boyfriend Jack who would become Henry’s manager and later try to get him all sorts of things to make money much to Henry’s disgust. 

John Candy is great in one of his final performances as Cubs announcer Cliff Murdoch as Candy brings a lot of funny comments throughout the film.  Amy Morton is amazing as Henry’s mom Mary as someone who makes sure that Henry doesn’t lose himself to the trappings of fame as she becomes suspicious of Jack’s work as she becomes close with Steadman. Gary Busey is brilliant as Chet Steadman as an aging pitcher who is asked to mentor Henry as he copes with not just his fading career but also the fact that he’s not as good as he once was as he tells Henry about what to expect when that gift is gone. Finally, there’s Thomas Ian Nicholas in a marvelous performance as Henry Rowengartner as a 12-year old kid who just wants to be good at baseball where an injury to his arm gives him unlikely throwing power as he copes with being in the major leagues and its demands as Nicholas adds a maturity to his role that makes the character very likeable.

Rookie of the Year is a remarkable film from Daniel Stern. Armed with a great cast and an engaging story about the idea of being in the major leagues, it’s a film that is very accessible for families as well as offer something compelling for baseball fans. In the end, Rookie of the Year is a fantastic film from Daniel Stern.

© thevoid99 2015


Anonymous said...

I liked this film as a kid, but I can't remember much about it now. As my son gets older, I'm sure this'll be one I revisit. Nice write up :-D

thevoid99 said...

I saw this when it came out and it was on TV recently. I still have fond memories of it as it's still a good film. I was 12 when it came out and it's still one of the finest family films and certainly part of a great run of films about baseball at that time.

Brittani Burnham said...

Awww, I loved this movie when I was a kid. My husband and I still make fun of the "float" pitch when we're out playing catch. lol

Great review!

Dell said...

Saw this years ago. I remember thinking it was cute, but the whole kid pitching in the big leagues didn't sit well with me. About sports, I can be a bit of a curmudgeon.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-Thanks. I think it's a fun family film and a good baseball film though the best baseball movie of '93-'94 is The Sandlot.

@Wendell-It may require to suspend a lot of disbelief but it's still a fun film as who couldn't enjoy a kid making fun of some fat-ass pitcher.