Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Perfect Game (2009)


"Based on a true story [about] a group of boys from Monterrey, Mexico who become the first non-U.S. team to win the Little League World Series," The Perfect Game (2009) was the perfect movie for my son and me to watch today, while the girls were busy with girly stuff. We did so through the magic of Netflix.com, watched on the telescreen through the magic of our new Wii, this year's family Christmas present.

This delightfully standard underdog sports movie about the 1957 Little League World Series was refreshingly religious, but not surprisingly so, given the quasi-religious nature of the sport. It starred none other than the great Cheech Marin as Padre Esteban, the village priest who serves as the boys spiritual coach. A scene early in the movie has the boys in the church passing around their first real baseball as if it is a religious relic. They ask the priest what is meant by "Property of St. Louis" on the ball, and the priest answers, "It belongs to a saint." The story of Our Lady of Guadalupe is mentioned at a couple of key points, and Saint Juan Diego is said to have had been "in the bottom of the ninth with bases loaded" or something along those lines.

The kids refuse to play without being blessed by a priest, and when Padre Esteban is deported, a black pastor is deemed a worthy substitute. At this point, the film cannot avoid paying homage to liberal pieties; Southroners are of course depicted as racists (except for two sassy Texan waitresses played by Frances Fisher and Maddy Curley) and the boys take a brave stand against Jim Crow laws to sit with a black boy from a rival team, which stretches the willing suspension of disbelief for anyone having had any serious interaction with real people from south of the border.

There are even lessons for the aspiring alpha male in this film. The kids' coach stands up the woman he's after not once but twice and still gets the girl; serious aloof game there. And there's the advice to be prepared for and to make "the unexpected play at the unexpected time," advice that's put to good use not only in the ballgame but in game as well, advice straight off the pages of Chateau Heartiste.

Sandy Koufax, a Jewish hero of the Schneider boy across the street, and Duke Snider, who provided my father a nickname, are mentioned throughout the movie. The story ends, of course, in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, not that far from here, with a true-to-history perfect game, the only one ever pitched in LLWS history.

"It's baseball. Why it's a world series. Only in America," says one of the American characters. Only in a America would they make a movie that celebrates a foreign team beating not only one but several of its own. Still, I really enjoyed this movie, which reminds us of a game that unites us to our sister republic to the south.

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