With baseball season in full swing and a little time off for Memorial Day, I treated myself to the Disney flick, Million Dollar Arm. This easily became one of my favorite baseball films along with Major League, A League of Their Own, Sandlot, Bad News Bears, and Moneyball.
Based on a true story, Million Dollar Arm is the journey of a sports agent, JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm), and two kids from India, Rinku and Dinesh (Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal). Once a big time agent, Bernstein can no longer land a client and his business is failing. In a last ditch effort, he sets up a contest in India, hoping to find Indian cricket players who can be developed into Major League Baseball pitchers.
Ironically enough, he does find Rinku and Dinesh, but both of them hate cricket. They throw javelin, which probably explains their ability to throw the 85 mph fastballs that win the contest (featuring over 37,000 contestants).
Director Craig Gillespie beautifully portrays the differences between America and India. There are most likely 20 solid minutes of location shots that bring the audience in and submerse them in the culture. In India, there is a lot of sweat, a LOT of people, a lot of dancing, and a lot of cows. Transitioning to Los Angeles, there are a lot of cars, a lot of space, and a lot of technology. Watching Dinesh go up the wrong way on an escalator and his amazement at the sensors in elevator doors was a cute way to add to the boys’ culture shock.
While it could be said the main focus of the movie was the rise of two poor kids from India to the MLB, the biggest drive was really the development of Bernstein’s character. He transforms from a true bachelor, who cares only for models and money, into a real human being. Each time he acts like a jerk, he is called out on it by everyone around him: his business partner/friend, Aash (Aasif Mandvi), his love interest, Brenda (Lake Bell), baseball scout, Ray (Alan Arkin), and the pitching coach, Tom House (Bill Paxton). Eventually he realizes that taking care of his friends, who have become his family, is a much more worthwhile endeavor than superficial luxuries. Baseball is a mental game, and there is no way Rinku and Dinesh could have succeeded without his support.
What sports film would be complete without a motivational pep talk from coach to player? This was delivered by Amit (Pitobash), an Indian man so in love with baseball that he travels with the boys to learn how to be a coach. His character is pretty goofy most of the time, but his final speech is deserving of the slow clap.
Developing a professional pitching arm from scratch within a year is an insane feat of accomplishment. The fact that it is true just makes it all the more unbelievable. Dinesh Patel has since gone home to India and helped train boys for upcoming editions of the Million Dollar Arm contest. Rinku Singh is with the Pittsburgh Pirates and just recently underwent Tommy John surgery. He’ll be returning for the 2015 season.