Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Game 6

At one point in Game 6 (2005), during a critical moment of the 1986 World Series, a taxi driver accuses the protagonist, Nicky Rogan (played by Michael Keaton) of always wanting to take the easy way out because "Losing is easy." Nicky replies, "No, winning is easy. Losing is complicated. Losing's a lifetime work."  That sounds like he speaks from experience.

Game 6 chronicles what might be the most important day in the life of Nicky, a New York City playwright and a Boston Red Sox fan. That day is Oct. 25, 1986, the day for both the opening of Nick's newest play and game six of the World Series between the Red Sox and the Mets. Meanwhile, his daughter Laurel (Ari Graynor) informs Nick her mother (Catherine O'Hara) is talking to a "prominent" divorce lawyer. How prominent? "He has his own submarine."

This news doesn't stop Nicky from having a tryst with one of his play's backers, who informs him that the lead actor (Harris Yulin) has a brain parasite preventing him from remembering his lines. Nicky also  runs into friend and fellow writer Elliot Litvank (Griffin Dunne), whose confidence was shattered by a scathing review by Steven Schwimmer (Robert Downey Jr.), an eccentric drama critic who is readying his pen for Nicky's play. How eccentric? "Steven not only wears disguises. He goes to the theater armed," says one who knows him.

The movie strikes a balance somewhere between witty comedy and post-modern tragedy, although it leans more toward the former. As the narrative progresses closer to both the game and play, Nicky becomes convinced that a) the Red Sox will lose and b) Schwimmer is going to destroy the play. Nicky is a man who is never short of words, quips, or even makeshift monologues, but at certain points throughout, one begins to question his mental and emotional stability, especially in the deciding moments of the game 6, involving Red Sox first baseman Bill Buckner; in a sense, Nicky sees what he wants to see and arguing this point, contrary to reality, in a bar bathroom gets him beat up by a couple of Mets fans.

"You know what Mother said to me?" Laurel asks her father in their first meeting. "That Daddy's demons are so intense, he doesn't even know when he's lying."

That's a dose of harsh truth. So is Nicky's bit about how the Red Sox are always winning until they lose and his little speech about losing, but it's laced with a self-depricating sense of humor. "When the Mets lose, they just lose. It's a flat feeling; there's nothing there. Now the Red Sox, now, here, we have a rich history of really fascinating ways to lose a crucial game. You know what I mean? Defeats that just keep you awake at night. They pound in your head like the hammer of fate. Yeah, you can analyze a Red Sox game day and night for a month and still uncover really complex layers of feelings. Feelings you didn't even know you were capable of having. Yeah. That kind of pain has a memory all of its own."

Directed by Michael Hoffman and written by Don DeLillo, Game 6 shows us a quirky writer and baseball fan and the assorted kooks who are a part of his life, including his family. Certain aspects threaten to go over into farce, but the proceedings are more or less presented as believable, although some aspects strain credibility. I'm tempted to call it an outrageous comedy that's grounded in reality, but I'm not sure that accurately conveys the tone of the movie. I called the critic an eccentric, but pretty much every character is an eccentric, even all the different taxi drivers Nicky gets rides from. 

I could see see this working as a play since it's built on characterization, performances, and dialogue, but even after the movie's over, I'm still not sure how I feel about it. There's a lot to admire about the film, including the performances, but I'm not wildly enthused about it, and I can't really figure out why. Maybe it's because I already knew the Mets would win the '86 series. Maybe I didn't quite buy Nicky stealing a gun from his barber with the intent to shoot Schwimmer. Maybe there was too much time in the cabs that I really didn't find particularly funny or believable, even after one cabbie mistakes Nicky for an infamous mobster. Maybe I found Nicky to be too much of a jerk.

Or maybe it's because I'm from Cleveland.

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