Sam Strange Remembers A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN

Hollywood icon Sam Strange looks back at the time when he gathered all those ladies to make a softball movie.

A lot of people don’t realize this, but half the people out there buying movie tickets are women. Nevertheless, Hollywood seems less than interested in pleasing this sizable demographic. The lesbians who mow my lawn tell me this is because only men can make movies. Well, I find that just sexist. The assumption that men aren’t sensitive enough to approximate the complex emotional PMS stuff women go through is highly offensive. Call me a progressive, but I feel women deserve quality entertainment just as much as people who work for a living.

Often, filmmakers try to appeal to women with stories about how awesome men are. The main lady will or won’t find happiness depending on whether or not she gets a dude. This is bullshit, though. Women too ugly to get married still watch movies. Just because they have to pay for a ticket themselves doesn’t mean it’s not real money. People forget, these are cinema’s most dedicated re-watchers. It seems counter-intuitive to alienate a whole demographic just standing there with their dusty purses spread open for your probing, sticky fingers.

So once every thirty years or so, I make a movie for these ladies, a movie with no romance or hunks or tits or anything. Just a movie about women being women with other women and finding peace and happiness within such limited potential for normalcy.

So, A League of their Own is all about the first women ever to learn self-respect and homo-reliance by playing professional softball. Admittedly, for the plot to work believably, it requires a nation nearly devoid of men. Thank God for WWII! See, Hitler, Mussolini, and Toshiro Mifune’s trifecta of evil was some serious shit back then, and it took nearly every non-evil male on Earth to kick their ass, including not only John Wayne and Elvis, but also all of America’s baseball players.

This led to an unprecedented workforce of women dressing up like men and pretending to do their jobs. At first, baseball didn’t seem like a big priority because there were no longer any fans. But, as usual, people were being short-sighted. The film begins with a candy tycoon’s brilliant realization that if women spend all day in a factory like men, they will probably go home with an urge to swill beer, watch baseball, and hoot at titties like men. So he makes an all-girl softball league.

The league begins as a high-pitched turtle travels our country’s dustier roads in search of female softball players. First he finds Dottie (played by that bare-breasted sweetheart from the beginning of Howard the Duck) and her little sister Catty (played by Chris O’Donnell’s little sister, Petty O’Donnell).

Dottie and Catty have a complicated sisterhood, likely instigated by a lack of shared pants. Basically, Dottie is really great at everything while Catty sucks the life out of whatever she attempts. She then pouts and blames Dottie for her unhappiness. I was going to call them Jan and Marsha, but didn’t because these girls don’t have blond hair, and A League of Their Own is firmly anti-blond. There is nothing empowering about blond hair.

The recruiter wants Dottie but not Catty because she sucks at softball. Of course, this leads to a Cattyfight. Dottie responds with an “all or none” ultimatum, and the softball league is already undermined by hiring a shitty player for purely emotional reasons.

Next they stop at a cornfield to watch a truly hideous woman try out. Because she’s ugly, she possesses super strength and can hit the softball clean out of the park. Because she’s ugly, though, she holds no commercial appeal, so the recruiter passes. This pisses Dottie off, and she holds another “all or none” stand (Catty awkwardly tries to add to her solidarity. It’s cute). So now the recruiter has to lug around two girls of no use.

This happens over and over again. Each girl has a problem which deems them unsuitable for professional softball. Some can’t play, like Catty. Some are too ugly, like Ugly. Others have too many children, like JohnandKaty. Others still simply don’t care to play softball, like GloriaSteinemie. Dottie stands up for the rights of each one and wins. When the recruiter turtle finally returns to Softball, Iowa with the league in tow, he’s promptly fired for incompetence and sent to a Japanese internment camp because he looks close enough if you squint.

Next, the league needs a coach. Luckily, there’s a man lying around for the job, a drunk, lame ex-baseball player played by Tom Cruise who finally gets an opportunity here to remind audiences of his comedic beginnings on the cross-dressing sitcom Mork and Mindy.

The coach’s name is Coachie. For much of the movie, he looks down on the girls, thinking the softball thing is stupid, as most men would. But as time goes by, his perspective transforms. They say women who spend time together will eventually synchronize their menstruation cycles. But they never told us that a guy in the same situation will experience the phenomenon, too. By the time Dottie has to give him “the big talk” he’s a full-on convert. Seriously, he doesn’t have sex with even one of these girls, and this is a bus with Madonna in the back.

So the girls play a bunch of softball, and all the factory girls come out to watch. Somehow, though, it’s not quite as popular as Mr. Candymaker hoped. Guided by gut instinct, he demands the girls wear shorter skirts while they play. He also gently nudges Dottie with the idea of upping her “showmanship” a little. Dottie doesn’t want to betray her dignity, but she doesn’t want to damn her sisters to unemployment either. So she catches a ball while doing the splits. This not only excites the lecherous ladies watching, but soldiers fighting overseas catch it on Youtube and credit Dottie for lifting their spirits. In the video’s background, Catty bares her breasts, but no one pays much attention because they think she’s a boy.

Now Dottie has not only the league on her shoulders, but the entire military’s morale as well. On top of that, her sister hates her guts and keeps threatening to quit the team, which everyone actually wants but won’t say out loud. An answer to Dottie’s spiritual conundrum comes out of thin air as her Army husband (played by Bill Paxton) returns from the war with a shot foot. Instantly, she jumps into his arms and begs him to take her from all this responsibility and pressure. Jealous, Catty also tries to jump into a wounded vet’s arms, but only finds herself bear-hugged by Rosie O’Donnell.

This comes right on the eve of the Softball World Series. With the league’s star player gone, interest wanes both on and off the field. I illustrate this with several shots of short-stops getting hit in the nuts and outfielders going for the same pop-up only to crash into each other instead.

Back home, Dottie is not as happy as expected. Bill Paxton treats her nice, but memories of softball with the girls pulls at her soul. After watching one too many clips of outfielders bumping into each other to “Yackety Sax,” she decides to play one more game.

But it’s not so simple a return. Her sister’s been traded to another team, so the imaginary competition between the two suddenly becomes literal. Dottie must make the definite decision to either live life for herself or spend the rest of her days repressing her own strength in order to facilitate her sister’s illusory and fragile sense of self-worth. Will she be a sister to her sister or a brother from a different mother? Ultimately she makes the right choice: she loses on purpose and keeps a straight face while Catty trash-talks her face off.

After that, the men come home and baseball returns to normal. As a thank you to the courageous softball girls, Richard Nixon grants American women permission to play amateur softball any non-public place they see fit. It’s a true win because Nixon remembers some of their names without reading a card.

The film ends with all the softball girls, now elderly, driving to Dodge City, Iowa to relive memories while looking at a scrapbook compiled by Coachie. Catty allows Dottie to talk to her for the first time since Dottie became Catty’s maid ten years ago. It’s all very touching.

But that’s not all! The end credit sequence shows us before and after pictures of every softball girl. This not only illustrates the horrors of aging, but also the ultimately limited scope of “that one good thing I did with my life” thinking. To ensure complete emotional catharsis, I had Madonna sing the film’s Oscar-winning theme song, “My Heart Will Go On Round the Playground.”

Happy Woman’s Day!

(three stars)