How Keanu Reeves’ sports drama holds up

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In fifth grade, we once had a long-term substitute teacher for a science class, and that was a Cool Sub. He let us call him by his first name. He sat down on the desk. He brought a guitar (but never played one). He threw candy for the correct answers. And most revealing: he was a White Guy With Dreads. My feelings about him were mixed; I loved the chance to have free candy, obviously, but even then I knew something about his character, his approach to us kids was calculated bad faith, imposed instead of organically shared. .

Circle of Missing Poets is a beloved example of that “unorthodox educator inspires children” subgenre that my Cool Sub wanted to be the protagonist of. This sub-genre then made problematic detours in the representation of overcoming racial and socio-economic tensions via this hardworking educator, generally white. Movies like Dangerous spirits and Freedom writers calcified this knotted approach to the genre, inspiring parody works like the Jean Lovitz parody High school High school. In all of these works, the educator is actively developing a plan, working to raise their children above their stuck stations in life, doing their best to be a ladder to a better life. Movies like these often age as badly as the White Dreads in my Cool Sub.

Then there is Hardball. Originally released in 2001, the Brian Robbins the film is a sports version of this genre, starring Keanu reeves like a prickly pear assigned to coach a downtown Little League baseball team. After revisiting the movie, which I loved when it was first released, on its new Blu-ray release, I’m excited to report that it holds up and then some, satirizing and bypassing these tropes of racial saving. in an efficient and subtle way. Essentially, Hardball declares that these children are good the way they are, and that you just have to introduce yourself the.

The Cast of Hardball

Image via Paramount Pictures

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For starters, Reeves’ character Conor has no aspirations or plans to become a coach. Instead of imposing this identity on him on others, it is imposed on him because of his ways of living, playing and being addictive. He’s so in debt to so many loan sharks that he’ll do pretty much whatever is asked of him, which is a neat writing tool to make sure a protagonist stays nimble and in the present tense (Jean Gatins wrote the script based on a non-fiction book by Daniel Coyle). When corporate sleazeball Mike McGlone offers Conor money in return for his superficial, image-oriented charitable efforts to draw children into Chicago’s ABLA housing projects (a sharp and underrated check on these kinds of empty gestures often made by rich), Conor just says yes because he needs to survive.

This level of survival on the fly, on observation leading to action rather than any pocket action, organically leads us to Conor’s coaching style, and ultimately to the redemption of him and the children he has. it causes. The children of this team, the Kekambas, react to circumstances at all levels of their lives. They got a new coach out of nowhere because their old rich man decided he was done, they can’t play outside when it’s too dark, they can’t play with certain teammates if the league authorities deign it that way , they cannot walk in certain streets if there are threats to their lives. Conor is the first person in their life who sees them as the circumstance, who reacts to it. It is a subtle act of empowerment, to signal to these children that they are worthy of space and power without being talked about.

When the kids start fighting and making fun of each other for missed pieces, Conor doesn’t berate them; he speaks like them, reflects their logic, brings them closer together, more serenely on their own terms. When G-Baby (DeWayne Warren) acts like his brother Kofi (Michael perkins) agent, negotiating Kofi’s return after leaving the team in anger, Conor does not wink, balk, or indicate that G-Baby is behaving in an unusual manner; it responds clearly to the terms as presented to it, producing constructive activation and, again, subtle empowerment. And in one of the film’s most triumphant moments, when Miles (A. Delon Ellis Jr.) is forced by the league to remove his headphones when he throws (Conor makes league officials tell the kids themselves; both a dig at problematic adults who limit views and another element empowerment that Conor helps foster), Conor simply leads the team by singing The great notoriousis “Big Poppa” so Miles can get what he needs.

hardball-cast

Image via Paramount Pictures

This movie continues to play out so cleanly and invitingly by this simple equation: Conor gets the team what they need by strengthening who they naturally are. There’s no need for elevation self-presentation, disgusting hairstyles, or candy kickbacks (although sometimes pizza kickbacks are expected by G-Baby). Conor looks at what is in front of him and commits himself to it, plain and simple. And when those clear and simple observations and actions lead to changing the lives of everyone involved, it feels all the more heartwarming, sweet without turning into saccharin, inspiring without turning into manipulation. My Cool Sub could never.

Hardball is now available on Blu-ray.

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