Saturday, July 30, 2016

Undrafted: Movie Review

One baseball game, some comedy, some loud personalities, and one epic inning.
Let’s make this simple. If you don’t like baseball, this movie is not for you. However, if you do like baseball, it’s worth reading on. This has been compared to Everybody Wants Some!! but there are some key differences. While Everybody Wants Some!! is about the lives (college, partying, booze, and girls) of baseball players, Undrafted is about baseball players actually playing baseball. 2016

Directed by: Joseph Mazzello

Screenplay by: Joseph Mazzello

Starring: Aaron Tveit, Tyler Hoechlin

The few dramatic elements and basic human emotions all revolve around baseball – not getting drafted, risking your health just to play the game, and accepting a new role in life (playing another position, or nor playing at all). And while those experiences can be extended beyond baseball and represent anything in life, the film doesn’t really make them any more universal than the game itself.

Courtesy Vertical Entertainment
The plot and basic premise is that the star of an intramural baseball team – one of the best baseball players any of them have ever seen – has just gone undrafted. Forty rounds, a thousand players given the chance to make it in the big leagues, and he wasn’t one of them. The others genuinely care about John (nicknamed Maz), so their approach to the game is dependent on Maz’s state of being.

The beginning of the movie is where most of the comedy is. The introduction of the all the players and their interactions with one another before the game starts is all fairly funny. The starting of the game is also well-handled. The umpire (Billy Gardell from TV’s “Mike and Molly”) has some great lines expressing surprise that this league is a real thing. Six teams who all make the play-offs; some of whom take it much more seriously than others. The “home” team (the team of the protagonists) is the D-Backs (not to be confused with D-Bags) and they line-up in their red uniforms. One is overweight, another doesn’t have his shirt tucked in and another doesn’t have a uniform that fits properly. And then the opposing team arrives. The Bulldogs have a chartered bus, a team made up of stringers (who have all made professional baseball teams), and they’re all in their perfectly-pressed, white uniforms, tailored to their athletic bodies. This set-up very effectively created an underdog atmosphere.

When the game gets underway, some of the louder personalities on the team take over, and the film definitely loses its steam. There is a lot of yelling, a lot of over-the-top reactions (presumably to be funny, but it isn’t), and there is an uninteresting game of baseball going on.

But a huge warning: don’t give up on this film. If you liked the beginning, you’ll love the end. And this is where the name cast comes in. The star of the team, Maz, is played by Aaron Tveit and he’s definitely the MVP of the cast. Especially today, he’s one of the quieter members on the team, but Tveit turns that into a slow-burning, subtle, but still intense energy. Even when he isn’t demanding attention, he gets your attention. There’s a natural curiousity surrounding him, wondering if he’s okay, wondering if he is somehow going to make the big leagues after all. Tyler Hoechlin plays the pitcher; he’s not as quiet as Maz, but is mature and can lead the team when needed. And then there’s Matt Bush, the junior member of the team, the guy nobody cares about, but is still the quintessential teammate. Thanks to him we do get a bit of the comedy back even after the film gets lost in the meandering of a game with bombastic personalities.

It all comes together in the end. When I was watching, I was impressed with how cleverly it was written. Like the filmmaker watched all their favourite baseball games and then scripted the best one. A game that combines off-the-wall strategy, humourous moments, and big, epic outcomes. But the credits reveal something even better. This is real, and not just real, but personal. The lead character is the brother of writer, director, producer Joseph Mazzello, and this was a real game.

Undrafted will not be for everybody, since it’s pure baseball, and literally one baseball game. But for an independent first feature, Mazzello knows what he’s doing. The setting is as simple as they come – a ball park; the cast doesn’t come and go – they are all involved in the same plot, playing a baseball game; and there are heroes (Aaron Tveit as Maz), and villains (the opposing team with their taunting songs), and they have to work out their differences in one satisfying ultimate inning.