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A League of Their Own

Directed by Penny Marshall. Starring Geena Davis, Tom Hanks, Madonna, Lori Petty, Rosie O'Donnell, Jon Lovitz. (1992, PG, 128 min.)

REVIEWED By Kathleen Maher, Fri., July 3, 1992

The story of the short-lived women's baseball league gives Marshall the opportunity to examine the roots of modern feminism and have a darn fine time doing it. Davis and Petty play two sisters who get a chance at the big time even though they never dreamed there was a big time for them in baseball. For the farm girls that make up the All American Girls Professional Baseball League, it represents a chance to go where something happens and to put themselves in the way of opportunity. For the city girls, it's a matter of escaping the unpleasant reality of lower middle-class street life. They may have more options, but most of them are bad. We know this story. We know that when the war ends, women are expected to go home and resume their domestic functions and we know that didn't work. With a short scene of black women on the sideline, the film also directs a polite nod towards women of color for whom even these opportunities did not exist. Nestled in these large issues is the story of the two sisters, their teammates and their dissolute coach as played by Hanks. Hanks, at first content to let the women fend for themselves and drink himself into a stupor on the sidelines, gradually becomes aware of their commitment to the team and to the sport. As a coach of the old school, loud and mean, he's completely at sea when it comes to dealing with women who want to get ahead and maintain their self-respect in a world that expects them to show off their legs and smile. Being a good sport is by no means an easy task for these women. Davis, as always, is great as the team leader and Petty manages to hold her own in a thankless role as the brat sister. Madonna and O'Donnell play supporting roles that enliven the outfield with smartass chatter and, in their unwavering friendship, recall Marshall's Laverne and Shirley days. Although many of the elements work well together, the movie as a whole is diminished because it is burdened with a dopey framing device that shows the women in the present. As a result, the movie lasts long after its logical ending and loses much of its punch. Steve Davis, a more insightful observer than I am, suggested that it was to give the real women of the league their due. Perhaps, but it certainly dilutes their message.
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