If you’ve set eyes upon an operating television, magazine, or newspaper in the last month, you probably are aware that the big-screen adaptation of Michael Lewis’ 2003 book Moneyball is coming out tonight, and I won’t be there to see it.
More than anything, I’m surprised this movie was a) even made, and b) made as a major picture featuring a star of the notoriety of Brad Pitt. The book, a work of nonfiction, is eight years old. It describes a way of thinking that has become uncontroversial, if not widely accepted, and that, as applied in the story told in the book, did not come to lasting fruition (i.e., Oakland is bad).
The celebrated nerd motif can work as general interest film for grownups if it adds an element of widely recognized and desired glamour. For example, 21 worked because it put the nerds in Vegas. Vegas unquestionably represents glamour, allure, desire, risk, and danger to all Americans, even those who’ve never been and never want to go, for whom it’s the forbidden other. Vegas attracts your attention, even if not your urge for physical presence, and seeing it through the eyes of sheltered nerds taking on the Vegas establishment allows the audience to feel the thrills and chills of the story. You didn’t need to understand specifically how they were cheating (or whatever), you just needed to understand that they were cheating, and you were along for the ride. Kevin Spacey and a major-marketed release were justified.
Baseball can’t carry nerd protagonists the way Las Vegas can, not even Major League Baseball, and especially not a team without household-name superstars, and really especially not a team without household-name superstars doing something like juicing or gambling. The players aren’t even the focus– it’s the administrative folks, and they aren’t Jerry Jones or Al Davis. Heck, even Marge Schott would make this more compelling. It isn’t a comedy baseball movie, and it isn’t a heartfelt tale of athletic achievement. It’s Titanic without the love story: great new idea gets carried out, and, albeit less dramatically, the boat sinks. And you know all of this before setting foot inside the theater.
It isn’t that I don’t like going to the movies– I’m looking forward to a few upcoming ones in particular (The Rum Diary, the Coen brothers’ Dave Van Ronk project, and J. Edgar)– but even thinking about sitting through a screening of Moneyball makes me tired. (Although if they promised to reveal the history of the Athletics’ elephant logo, I might change my tune.)