The Perfect Game
What It Is
A baseball movie with all kinds of heart, The Perfect Game is inspired by the true story of the 1957 Mexican Little League team that won the World Series. At film’s start, Cesar (Clifton Collins Jr.) comes home to Monterrey, Mexico following a disappointing stint with the St. Louis Cardinals. Though he sets himself to working at the local iron factory, he still yearns to play ball; when word gets out that he knows something about the game and has even been to America, the town’s just-conceived team asks him to coach—with a little extra encouragement from Padre Esteban (Cheech Marin).
The boys are ragtag, to be sure, living in shacks and initially playing without uniforms, but they demonstrate ambition and drive submitting to Cesar’s arduous program—lots of drills and lots of laps—without complain. None of the Mexican teams expect this upstart group to do well, but they do, winning the chance to cross the border into the States, where they go on to play in Texas, Kentucky, and at last Pennsylvania. At every stop, their opponents are bigger, better equipped, and more arrogant, but this only helps you to root for the kids you came in with.
These include Angel (Jake T. Austin), who aspires to be like Sandy Koufax (and can even pitch left-handed), while also struggling to please his father, Umberto (Carlos Gómez), an ironworker whose grief over the accidental death of Angel’s older brother, too often makes him miserable toward his surviving son. Angel’s relief on the mound is the big-hearted Enrique (Jansen Panettiere), while the team is provided with uniforms by the relatively wealthy father of left-fielder Pepe (Alfredo Rodríguez). The short kid Mario (Moises Arias) does duty as comic relief, while also advising Cesar on how to romance the beautiful Maria (Patricia Manterola).
As the team keeps winning against all odds, they become media stars—not just back in Mexico, where family members gather around radios to hear the games, but also in the States, as Frankie (Emilie de Ravin) follows them from town to town and reports on their wins and heartwarming antics. She and the boys embody related life lessons too, as all are subject to prejudices: as a girl sports reporter and Mexicans, they endure name-calling and worse. Yet even as the boys discover there are some restaurants and hotels in the South that refuse their business, they gain the admiration and support of assorted workers, like diner waitress Betty (Francis Fisher), the groundskeeper and former Negro League player Cool Papa Bell (Louis Gossett Jr.), and a preacher (John Cothran Jr.) who just happens to have an old bus they can use.
Why It’s Fun
Much like other uplifting sports team movies—say, Miracle, Hoosiers, A League of Their Own, or Remember the Titans—this one follows an unlikely contender, triumphant despite any number of obstacles. The baseball play montages are only loosely cut together, without much narrative drive. But the point here is not the thrill of athletics or physical realism. The point is the kids’ big smiles and improbable success, as well as Cesar’s redemption and Angel’s reconciliation with his dad.
In fact, the boys are adorable, even when they’re hamming up or exaggerating their performances. Though they’re not terrific actors, they are surely committed to their roles: when Norberto (Ryan Ochoa) reveals that he’s cut his foot and it’s bled through his sock and shoe, Cesar is worried, and says he won’t be able to play on that foot. “The I’ll play on the other one!” the big-eyed trooper insists, his voice rising with the dramatic soundtrack music. Cesar’s eyes well up and as corny as the scene might be, it’s hard not to feel moved, just a little. Cesar’s faith in his team is pretty much unshakable, though he does look exasperated sometimes.
Who’s Going To Love It
The movie seems tailor made for young baseball fans, as well as families looking for a pleasant, un-hectic movie with no foul language (save for a line about jockstraps and a couple of racist remarks: see below). Loosely based on the 2009 book by W. William Winokur, the movie is more fantastic than realistic, more episodic than thrilling. The plot is basic, the language is clean, and the romance is very, very chaste.
What To Be Aware Of
The movie makes a point to show the hurtfulness of racism, as the kids pass by a “Whites Only” sign, hear white people calling them “wetbacks,” or wince when a couple of white Major League players mock Cesar, “the Mexican.” Their victory in the World Series helps them to forget a lot of that—as they’re interviewed, celebrated in headlines, and travel to meet the U.S. President (Dwight Eisenhower at the time).
Both Cesar and Umberto turn to drinking when things get tough: Umberto’s drinking fuels his surliness toward Angel; luckily, the boy has a mother (Seraly Morales) who defends him, however timidly. And Cesar gets drunk when he’s reminded of the racism that drove him from St. Louis in the first place; luckily, he has a team full of little kids who remind him why he loves baseball and how perseverance, good intentions, and a soaring song on the soundtrack can win the day.
6 out of 10
The Perfect Game
Director: William Dear
Cast: Clifton Collins, Cheech Marin, Louis Gossett, Jake T. Austin, David Koechner, Emilie de Ravin, Bruce McGill
US Premiere: April 16, 2010