Bull Durham is frequently cited as one of the all-time great sports comedies, which has always baffled me.
Because Bull Durham is only superficially about baseball. Upon closer examination, it’s actually a story about how it takes a village — or at least a minor league baseball team — to prevent a grown woman from choosing her own sexual partners.
So, there’s this lady, Annie Savoy. And, as Annie explains in her opening VO monologue, she has a mildly interesting hobby. Annie’s hobby is f*cking ballplayers. Fair enough.* Everyone needs a hobby. Not everyone is into trivia or drag bingo.
Anyway, point being: she’s an adult, she’s gainfully employed, and she owns her own home. She has friends. Or at least, she has a friend, until about the midpoint of the film** Also, she’s stylish and has solid, if eclectic taste in home furnishings. By anyone’s standards, she’s got her life together. Girl’s got it going on.
So if she wants to break in a new athletic lover each year, that’s her prerogative. As far as I’m concerned, she doesn’t need an intervention.
Enter Kevin Costner, whose mission is to lock down that rogue vagina, which — SPOILER ALERT — turns out to be pretty easy: a little light bondage, a pedicure, and a round of bathtub sex. Then, a weekend in Asheville.*** (Who knew?)
Yes, I know. Every plot synopsis you read will insist that this film is about the love triangle that ensues as “Crash,” Kevin Costner’s character (the Catcher) serves as reluctant mentor/frenemy to “Nuke/Meat/Tall B!+c# o’ Water”**** Tim Robbins’ character (the Pitcher — and oh, how I wish the film had followed this metaphor to its logical, homoerotic conclusion). But it’s not.
It’s about curtailing Annie’s ostensible promiscuity — which actually isn’t. She’s not servicing the entire dugout during the seventh-inning stretch, tho’ hey, no shame if that’s what she’s into, so long as they’re all consenting adults.
Speaking of which, did anyone notice that the team’s sole Latino ballplayer apparently practices Santeria?!? At one point, Kevin Costner literally asks if anyone has a live chicken for Jose to sacrifice. This is where a.) the filmmakers should have cast Danny Trejo and b.) his character, preferably named “X-Acto,” should have simply disemboweled Kevin Costner on third base.
Thing is, she’s a straight-up serial monogamist*****: one man per season and they’re exclusive. That’s not slutty. That’s having a sex life. Still, rogue vagina is rogue and only Kevin Costner can save the day.
And how does Kevin Costner accomplish this? Well, first he has a hissy fit about the fact that Annie’s choosing who gets to enter her “Bermuda Triangle” (oh, the NERVE of these uppity ‘women’s libbers,’ always wanting to decide for themselves who they have sex with…and yes, “Bermuda Triangle” is actual terminology from the film, which is, btw, totally gross).
“Why do you get to choose? I mean, why don’t I get to choose, why doesn’t he get to choose?” he whines.
And then, when Annie’s like, “my game, my rules”****** Kevin Costner is all “What? I don’t try out for things!”
(And why should he? He’s a white man, after all, which entails showing up and then automatically getting whatever he wants: lucrative job offers, elevated social status, p00nt@ng, other stuff. Because that is how America works. Also, did you notice how he didn’t get arrested for vandalizing Mitch’s Tavern? There should have been cops, but instead there was just some vague hand-waving along the lines of “Look, random African-American small business owner, trying to make an honest living in this economically depressed city, I had to throw that billiard ball at your mirror because I was having emotions about sports.”)
Meanwhile, he spouts a lot of crap that — like late-night conversations in college dorm rooms all over America — sounds like deep wisdom, provided that you’re completely wasted. Strikeouts are fascist? C’mon, now.
In between, there are lots of lovely shots of the old ballpark — which are subsequently ruined by various characters shouting at each other. Which, apparently, is how comedy worked in 1988: just put two people in a medium close-up and have them engage in what I like to call a Muppet Argument.
This basically entails each person repeating what the other person says, back and forth, a little louder with every repetition, until both parties throw up their hands in frustration and lapse into incoherent shouting and/or slobbery kissing. It’s like some demented warm-up exercise from a mediocre improv class…i.e., they can pay to do it, but you really shouldn’t have to pay to watch it.
Which pretty much applies to the entire movie, come to think of it.
And in the end? Duke Nuke’Em (or whatever he’s called) pisses off the to The Show****** and Kevin Costner is like “Woman, shut up and get me a beer.”
And I have just saved you all the trouble of watching Bull Durham. You’re welcome.