It Ain't Over
2023, PG, 99 min. Directed by Sean Mullin.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., July 7, 2023
Lorenzo Pietro Berra bore little resemblance to the Olympian ideal. Born in 1925 to Italian immigrant parents, the St. Louis native measured a stocky 5 feet, 7 inches, an unathletic build of rounded shoulders and stumpy legs. Much taller and more photogenic fellow New York Yankee Joe DiMaggio – then professional baseball’s premier matinee idol – supposedly likened Berra’s physique to a fire hydrant upon their first meeting. His homely mug, usually in goofy grin mode, looked like a catcher’s mitt in the estimation of some, fittingly enough. Once criticized for his unremarkable appearance, Berra good-naturedly let it roll off his back with typical home plate pragmatism. “So, I’m ugly,” he replied. “I never saw anyone hit with his face.”
Famously nicknamed “Yogi” because he sat in the dugout with crossed arms and legs, Berra could play ball like few others have. He hit a homer his first time at bat in the majors, preordaining his future greatness and making him a more than worthy subject for charming biographic documentary It Ain't Over. His lifetime achievements as a player (primarily as catcher), manager, and coach in a career spanning four decades are astonishing, with many of the records he set still unrivaled today. He won 10 World Series rings as a Yankee during the team’s postwar heyday, playing a total of 75 games in 14 championship series in which the pinstriped New York club vied for the title. He later earned three more of those rings for coaching, most notably the Miracle Mets in 1969. He was selected an American League All-Star 18 times and was thrice named the league’s MVP. The squat Berra may not have stood very tall, but he’s a giant in the annals of baseball history.
What sticks in the craw of this affectionate documentary celebrating all things Berra is how his oversized personality and status as a pop culture icon eventually eclipsed his professional triumphs, to the ultimate detriment of his sports legacy. For many, he’s most remembered as a media-saturated pitchman for everything from Yoo-Hoo to Aflac and – most prominently – for serving up seemingly nonsensical yet perceptive aphorisms known as “Yogi-isms” for public consumption, such as the most memorable one referenced in the film’s title. (Just ask Lenny Kravitz.) The film suggests that fading memories of Berra’s stellar career over time relegated him in some corners to a mascot status on par with the clownish, Sixties-era Hanna-Barbera cartoon character uncoincidentally named Yogi Bear. That’s a bit of a stretch, but few can legitimately disagree with the film’s thesis that Berra’s absence from the results of a 2015 fan poll naming the four greatest then-living baseball players is a sin of omission not easily forgiven.
With the help of a slew of adoring talking heads, It Ain’t Over director Sean Mullin (Amira & Sam) effortlessly validates his subject’s legendary career through the film's zeal to restore him to his proper place. The facts can’t help but speak for themselves. Devotees of the sport (and perhaps others as well) will relish the priceless baseball lore spicing the movie, like the perfect game pitched by Don Larsen in the 1956 World Series that Berra, crouched behind the plate, helped orchestrate. The sight of Berra joyously jumping into Larsen’s arms as he victoriously walks off the mound is a moment that will always define this honest-to-God good guy. Above everything else, this tribute is a valentine to a man you can’t help but love. Perhaps the legend of Yogi Berra will begin a brand-new phase, thanks to this documentary. It ain’t over till it’s over.
It Ain't Over is available on digital platforms now.