A League of Their Own @ TIFF

With the new series on Prime Video based on the film there is renewed interest in A League of Their Own. And it is well deserved. So TIFF has jumped on the growing bandwagon and hosted a free outdoor screening of the original film from 1992 directed by Penny Marshall and starring Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Rosie O’Donnell, Madonna, Anne Ramsay, David Strathairn, Jon Lovitz, Bill Pullman, Garry Marshall, Tea Leoni, and Lori Petty.

Baseball is considered the American sport so there have been plenty of films about it. Like most sports films women’s involvement has been underrepresented. Women who played professional baseball were pretty much in the shadows until this Penny Marshall (The Preacher’s Wife, Awakenings) film.

During the era of World War II there was a shortage of men that remained in the United States and as such there were fewer men’s baseball teams. Some entrepreneurs like Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall – Chicken Little, Soapdish) thought that a women’s professional baseball league could fill the void and make some dough. A fledgling women’s professional baseball league is started up. In 1943 the All-American Girls Baseball League begins.

The Rockford Peaches, to be managed by washed up due to alcohol former pro baseball player Jimmy Dugan (Tom Hanks – Cloud Atlas, Toy Story 3) and positions are filled by scout Ernie Capadino (Jon Lovitz – from television’s Saturday Night Live), are based near Chicago. Capadino finds two sisters, Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis – Stuart Little, Thelma & Louise) and Kit Keller (Lori Petty – Free Willy, Point Break), in a small town in Oregon who have plenty of talent. The team’s roster is filled up with a bunch of underdogs like Mae Mordabito (Madonna – Evita, Dick Tracy), Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh – Junior, Robin Hood: Men in Tights), Doris Murphy (Rosie O’Donnell – Harriet the Spy, Sleepless in Seattle), and Evelyn Gardner (Tracy Reiner – The Princess Diaries, Apollo 13).

Though Penny Marshall did take a risk making this film about women’s professional baseball she did not, however, take any risks when telling the story. It is your typical sports film with some conflict and then heroism. We do learn that these women battled against sexism and brought about some social change in regards to women seen as being able to play professional sports.

This is primarily a comedy with some well-placed poignant moments. It is constructed as films were in times past. Films that would make you laugh, cry and warm your heart. The ending is guaranteed to have some tears in your eyes. Marshall does not dwell on the politics or feminism involved in the story rather she tells a generic story of the underdog finally gaining some level of equality.

The cast is all marvellous. Tom Hanks is the drunk who changes his mind about women in baseball when he sees how well and hard they play. Plus he delivered the oft-quoted “There’s no crying in baseball” line. Though Jon Lovitz is not in the film too much every time he is on the screen he utters a well-placed zinger that will have you laughing. Rosie O’Donnell is great as she pretty much plays herself as a gruff player with a heart of gold. Even Madonna does a good job as she is well cast as the team looker who has the men chasing after her. Madonna and O’Donnell have great chemistry as best friends.