1. Pretty much everything about Trouble With the Curve is a crock, but I couldn't help but like it anyway. It has a hackneyed, painfully overstructured screenplay; its motivations for its characters are stock at best and embarrassingly obvious at worst; and it knows so little about the game of baseball in the 21st century that you half expect an ad for Ovaltine to pop up halfway through. (More on this in a bit.) But I still fell for it, because, as Roger Ebert famously put it, a movie is not what it's about, but how it is about it. Trouble With the Curve did everything wrong except cast its three leads; it did that so perfectly that it's almost like nothing else even matters.
2. Seriously, though: You're gonna have to swallow a lot of idiocy. Clint Eastwood plays ... oh, he's playing Clint Eastwood, let's not even pretend his character has a name that matters ... a longtime scout for the Atlanta Braves who is beginning to lose his eyesight at the same time that one of those fancypants computer analyst people always using those whirligig computer devices is trying to force him out of his job. He's sent to North Carolina to scout One Last Prospect, at the same time his daughter—another of those Overextended High-Maintenance Female Lawyer types you see in 73 percent of Hollywood films—is struggling with her inability to commit to a meaningful human relationship, in large part because of her father. (She's played by Amy Adams, who's terrific though she doesn't seem to share a species with Eastwood, let alone genes.) She ends up traveling with him to Carolina to scout this top prospect, where they meet a washed-out ballplayer-turned-scout (Justin Timberlake), who, hey, would you believe he's the perfect antidote for all their disagreements and woes? And that he looks like Justin Timberlake? And that, as it turns out, they have lessons to learn from each other?
3. These are three obvious characters, so thank heavens they're played by Clint Eastwood, Amy Adams, and Justin Timberlake. The movie is at its best when it cuts it out with its dumb asides about baseball and supposed thematic connections and obvious, lookie-here-lookie-here "emotional" music cues and just lets these actors interact with each other. Eastwood and Adams have a fun, prickly chemistry; her character hasn't been much more thought out than "spitfire!" but the way she holds her own with Clint, the way she pushes back at him, gets him off-balance, is fun to watch, almost inspiring. (And Clint seems to enjoy it as well. Too many actors in this film seem to revere Eastwood so much that they sort of tiptoe around him; I love how Adams keeps getting in his face.) Eastwood's acting style these days is 45 percent growling, but it's a great growl, and honestly, at this point of his career, it'd be compelling to watch Eastwood stare in a mirror for 90 minutes. And Timberlake—an actor I've been skeptical of for a while; he always seems to be playacting as an actor rather than as a character—is as relaxed and charming as I've ever seen him. He fits comfortably in the cracks; it's impressive to see an international superstar so willing and content to take a backseat to everyone else. When the movie is just about these three people talking to each other, it sparkles.
4. Unfortunately, it's not just the three of them. I tried to take off my Baseball Fan hat watching this film, but at times it was just too hard. The worst character is a Braves assistant GM played by Matthew Lillard, who is almost always lit via computer screen and is sniveling and young and stupid and full of himself and of course never watches any baseball because he's too busy (and this is an exact quote) "looking for players on his Interwebs." The movie's baseball perspective is basically a response by the fired scout in Moneyball; it appears scripted by the foreword to Three Nights In August. Anyone who has even cursory knowledge of modern-day baseball will find the whole Braves plot staggeringly stupid; I absolutely cannot wait to see Keith Law review this. It's funny when Eastwood is spewing "get off my lawn" sentiments as a self-effacing means of leavening his screen presence; apply them to baseball, though, and suddenly Eastwood is aligned with some dopes who have been quite publicly discredited. I love baseball more than almost anything in the world, and I wish this movie would have been about anything other than baseball. Table tennis? Chess? Risk? Yes: I wish this movie were about competitive Risk players.
5. Thinking about the movie the day after I saw it, I find myself putting aside those frustrations, along with the plodding screenplay and increasingly strained thematic connections. (The film at one point explicitly makes the argument that neither baseball nor life is played on paper. Which is undeniably true. Good point, there.) The film is full of small pleasures, whether it's Eastwood and Adams whispering baseball facts to each other, or Timberlake and Adams clog-dancing, or Eastwood—in the film's best scene—attacking a guy in a bar who dared touch his daughter on the thigh. I don't feel proud recommending Trouble with the Curve. It does so much wrong, and it is so proud of itself for it. But it's too much fun watching these actors have such fun. Eastwood hasn't acted in a movie he didn't direct in nearly 20 years, and it fits him; it loosens him up, gets him out of his comfort zone, challenges him. Now that he's done it in a sorta dumb film, here's hoping he'll do it again in a great one.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.