Replay Review: For Love of the Game

Billy Chapel (played by Kevin Costner) is a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers in "For The Love Of The Game." Photo credit: Ben Glass 1999 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved.
Billy Chapel (played by Kevin Costner) is a pitcher for the Detroit Tigers in "For The Love Of The Game." Photo credit: Ben Glass 1999 Universal Studios. All Rights Reserved. /

If you’re a Detroit Tigers fan, especially if you’re a millennial/xenial, you’re probably familiar with the film For Love of the Game.

For Love of the Game stars baseball connoisseur and actor Kevin Costner as Billy Chapel, an aging Detroit Tigers pitcher who is facing the end of his Tigers tenure—as well as the possible end of his career. While Billy is a successful pitcher, he doesn’t seem to have the same success in his personal life, which becomes evident over the course of the movie.

This is an interesting movie to review because of the sentimental attachment I have for it; For Love of the Game came out when I was in high school and I immediately latched onto the fact Billy played for my favorite team, the Detroit Tigers. I was also interested in it because I remember reading about some of the behind-the-scenes stuff, including an anecdote about how Kevin Costner asked Tigers pitcher Matt Anderson for permission to wear his jersey number in the movie. For Love of the Game was one of my favorite baseball movies as a kid, and has remained so ever since.

The movie is told in a non-linear fashion, as we open up with Billy the night before a start against the New York Yankees. The film then bounces between present-day Billy, who’s just been told by his team’s owner that the team is being sold and the new corporate ownership group will be trading him, and past events in his life which all seem to revolve around one particular woman named Jane. Billy and Jane, who have had an on-off relationship over the last five years, then meet in a park where Jane tells Billy she’s leaving for a new job opportunity.

The movie jumps ahead to Billy’s start, the next to last game of the season. The Yankees are looking to lock down a postseason spot, with only the pathetic Tigers standing in their way. Despite the fact this is a fairly meaningless game for both teams, Billy is under a lot of pressure as both his professional and personal lives are collapsing. Will he be able to block out all the distractions and turn in a memorable performance?

Most of the negative reviews of the movie, as I’ve found, zero in on the romance, dismissing it as too sappy or boring. It is probably the least interesting part of the movie and tends to drag the rest of the film down. There have been times when I’ve watched this movie that I just fast-forward through the romance storyline, watching only the baseball parts. For Love of the Game just doesn’t come together very well at all, with the love story detracting from what could have been an interesting portrait of an aging star athlete who’s facing the end of his career. The non-linear story also makes it seem a bit mismatched, like a puzzle piece shoved into the wrong spot. I don’t dislike non-linear storytelling on principle, but it just doesn’t really work here. Greta Gerwig’s Little Women? Good use of non-linear storytelling. For Love of the Game? Distracting and annoying.

Of course, it might have helped had Billy been a more interesting character; as it stands, he’s just sort of generic, the type of baseball hero we’ve come to expect in our sports melodramas. He’s the quintessential aging, stoic superstar. He’s not terribly interesting, nor does he have a ton of depth. Costner does his thing, of course, and it’s fine, but you probably could have thrust George Clooney or Brad Pitt into the role and get a similar result.

It’s actually kind of unfortunate this isn’t a better movie because there are aspects that had some potential. The relationship between Billy and Jane’s teenage daughter, Heather, is actually something I wish they’d included more of as I felt it could have shown more facets of Billy’s personality and deepened him as a character. I also wish they’d included more interaction between Billy and some of his teammates, like Gus and Birch. I also wish there had been less focus on the romance and more emphasis on baseball. There are probably ways the baseball and romance could have been better integrated; I mean, Bull Durham, another Kevin Costner baseball-themed movie, melded baseball and romance pretty seamlessly. For Love of the Game just didn’t do it well; it felt like the movie was trying to juggle the different parts that made up the whole and kept dropping them.

That being said, this movie still holds a sentimental place in my heart. It’s not every day that you see your favorite team represented in the cinema, and in a semi-positive light. At the time For Love of the Game came out, the Tigers were in the midst of that nearly two-decade postseason drought and perennial cellar-dwellers. It was kind of exciting, at the time, to see someone put on the old English D and represent the Tigers in a positive light.

This was a difficult review to do because For Love of the Game was such a sentimental favorite for me, for so many years. The fact that the movie doesn’t hold up all these years later, even though I was kind of expecting that, is actually pretty disappointing. There are some aspects that are somewhat decent, such as the baseball choreography, but besides that For Love of the Game doesn’t have much of a foundation to stand on. The love story is already fairly unbearable and just to make it even worse, Costner and his costar Kelly Preston have some of the worst love scenes I’ve ever seen. That is some awkwardly bad, unrealistic kissing. The plot is pretty standard, the main character is generic and shallow, and the romance drags everything down, which isn’t ideal in a romantic drama. Overall, this just isn’t a very good movie.

I think this is one of the harder reviews I’ve done because I did love this movie so much as a kid and it really didn’t hold up well at all, from my adult perspective. My inner child is probably kicking adult me’s butt for rewatching this movie and ruining my love of it. As I was watching it, I could no longer enjoy the movie. All I was doing was picking out the stuff that bugged me now, or wishing I could just fast-forward through the romance storyline. It’s kind of surprising to realize this movie was directed by Sam Raimi because there’s literally nothing about it that stands out as a Sam Raimi film. I suppose it’s admirable that he branched out into a different genre than his long term fans are likely familiar with, but there’s just nothing distinctive about it that I will take with me after I tap out the final line of this review and close my laptop. There are certainly dozens of better baseball films out there, that I really don’t feel the need to revisit this one again.

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