Bill Simmons has tackled sports movies countless times since he’s been writing. And he often has interesting things to say about them. However, I continue to be baffled at his obsession with deciding whether movies are actually “sports movies” or if they’re something else. I mean, yes, it’s interesting to think about the topic — sometimes sports movies could be set elsewhere and tell the same story, sometimes not — but I’m not sure why he considers it such a fundamental, threshold consideration.
“Bull Durham” is his favorite target. He seems to like the movie (well, outside of Tim Robbins’ lack of athleticism, which drives him insane), but the genre of that film bothers him a whole heck of a lot. If you don’t believe me Google “Simmons” “Bull Durham” and “chick flick.” I bet he’s written about it a half dozen times. Maybe more.
None of which ever bothered me too much before — we all have our schticks and we all have dead horses we beat — but I was rather irked by the manner in which he tackled it in his most recent sports movie column this past Friday. Check this out, emphasis supplied by me:
Sure, this is an inventive movie that nailed so many minor league baseball nuances (the lingo, the rhythm, the fans, etc.) and wasn’t afraid to be candid and raunchy (a riskier move in 1988). But why does it really work? Because it caught Peak Costner and Peak Sarandon, two A-list stars at the top of their games. They’re great in the movie and they’re great together. You somehow never hold it against Sarandon that she’s a tramp who sleeps with one new player every season, or that she’s juggling Robbins and Costner and doing everything short of having a threesome with them. And you don’t mind that the last quarter of the movie degenerates into a flat-out love story worthy of the 10,275 times Lifetime has aired this thing.
I’m pretty used to sports bros denigrating or being uncomfortable with anything remotely related to romance, femininity or emotions, but now he’s reduced himself to slut-shaming. To marveling at how it took a near-Oscar-worthy performance for us to get over what he feels is the clear and rational response to a woman having somewhat non-traditional sexual values (i.e. to react so negatively that we would, naturally, hold it against her and consider her a whore). Somehow Sarandon’s character is a “tramp” whereas Nuke LaLoosh — who, like Annie has two on-screen sexual partners in the whole movie — isn’t a problem for him. Nor can I ever recall him talking about male promiscuity in a movie in a negative manner at all.
I have no idea why Simmons is so hung up on the parts of this movie he otherwise seems to enjoy, but it’s sad. It wore pretty immaturely on a single sports writer in his 20s. It wears far less on a sports writer who is in his mid-40s and is a father of a daughter.