I vaguely remember watching The Bad News Bears when I was eleven and an aspiring Little Leaguer. I also remember being shocked and disturbed at the behavior of the adults in the film, which I’ll talk about in this review. When I watch it as an adult, I’m not disturbed, but it does provide an accurate commentary on how we compete. The term “helicopter parenting” was coined specifically for these types of parents. And nothing’s changed apparently, according to this video.
But I include The Bad News Bears on this pro-single list due to its lack of a romantic subplot. The coach, Morris Buttermaker, is played by Walter Matthau in his usual curmudgeonly fashion. He was a good enough ballplayer to make the minor leagues, but his chronic drinking and smoking derailed his career, so now he cleans pools to make ends meet and passes the time by sipping from his flask.
He’s hired (illegally) by a councilman who sued one of the Leagues for barring the less athletically gifted from playing. The kids are likable and funny, but they can’t play a lick (at least not at first). Buttermaker sees this gig as an easy paycheck at first, but as his team loses its first game 26-0, he finds himself taking responsibility for his job.
He emerges (mostly) out of his drunken stupor and begins to coach. And, of course, the team gets better with the help of Amanda (Paper Moon’s Tatum O’Neal), the daughter of one of Buttermaker’s former girlfriends whom he taught how to pitch. There is a subplot here, but it’s about the developing relationship between Buttermaker and Amanda, as he starts to take on a paternal role with her. And I even teared up during a couple of their moments together.
The only real attempt at romance is when Amanda goes on a date with Kelly Leak (Jackie Earle Haley), a neighborhood juvenile delinquent who becomes the star of the team (she lost a bet with him prior to his joining the team, so she had to go out with him). But it doesn’t move beyond the first date.
In most movies involving the Coach in Need of Redemption, the coach would clean up his act, stop drinking, and romance the mother of one of the players. The first sorta happens, but not the other two; Buttermaker even gives his team beer after the championship game (it was the 70s). At one point, the coach says, “I’m not the marrying kind.” He remains so, and the film loves him for it. Like last week’s film, Wildcats, The Bad News Bears was directed by Michael Ritchie. While many of his other films had romantic subplots, these two did not. My theory is that when Ritchie’s films focus on competition, romance is unnecessary. And the lack of it works in both cases.