Today I begin a new series that combines my fondness for film with the joy I have of being a parent. Like most geek dads or dads in general I am eager to share the things I have a passion for with my son. Growing up I can remember my dad doing the same. As a proud Air Force veteran with a father who made his living working for the Rail Road my dad grew up with his own passions and hobbies. Some of my greatest memories as a child are the times I spent seeing my dad gushing at train museums, getting lost in amazement at air shows, or simply try to gather as much information as possible about World War II. Now as I am closing in on the two year mark of being a dad I am beginning to brainstorm on what movies are must sees for my son.
Now to be clear I am not trying to be one of those fathers who lives vicariously through their child or forces him to love what I love. My wife and I have very clear goals on trying to expose our son to many different things including things I have no experience with and even dislike. I may even let him watch one of my wife’s favorite shows Glee! Just one of the sacrifices you make being a dad. With that said I do think part of being a good parent is making sure your kid has watched the essential movies. I mean if my child makes it to the third grade without ever seeing Aladdin or at least one Star Wars movie I would have failed as a parent.
More importantly there are lessons a lot of films can teach us—lessons about the art of film making along with vital life lessons. Those are going to be the two major things I focus on when talking about these movies. That and my own personal connection to these films and the fears I have about showing them. I mean I would like to think people will automatically love the movies I love, especially the people closest to me. However,life has taught me otherwise. I may hate Glee!, but I still love my wife. No matter how many Shonda Rhimes shows she watches.
So without any further ado let’s get to the first title I will focus on… The Sandlot
The Sandlot was one of my favorite films growing up as a kid. As someone who grew up during the 90’s I loved all the sports movies that came out during that time. Movies like The Mighty Ducks, Little Big League, The Little Giants, Angels in the Outfield, Big Green, Rookie of the Year…just to name a few. You can guarantee some of those will make this blog series in future posts. The Sandlot stood out though based on its structure (or lack there of) and how much it reminded of my own life. No, I never spent a summer fighting against the power of a monster dog, but I did grow up in an area where we played sports all time time. In the fall we played football and in the summer we played basketball and baseball. Kids from around the neighborhood would get together play for personal pride and bragging rights. We would talk about our favorite players and who we modeled our personal game after. For me Cal Ripken also stood out as a player to admire.
One part of the film that always stood out was the epilogue when they would go through what happened to all the kids as they grew older. I remember at the time thinking how lucky I was because none of my friends moved away like they did in The Sandlot. Cut to a few years later when my best friend I lived next to since I was three moves away to halfway across the country causing us to lose touch. I remember as I watched him drive away thinking back to this film and realizing my life was now following a similar path.
I will be looking at what age I feel would be appropriate to show the selected tittle. By this I mean more than simply a rating, but also an age where the lesson will hit home the hardest or the film itself would be the most relatable. Looking at The Sandlot in my mind that age would be around 8-12 years of age. He would be around the same age as the kids in the film and most likely be able to relate to some the issues they are dealing with.
The Sandlot is not regarded highly for its high level film making. With that said I was surprised to find out that it only holds a 58% on Rotten Tomatoes. While I never considered it a pinnacle of film making I assumed most critics at least gave it a positive review.
Obviously I believe that critics have it wrong, and there are lessons this teaches regarding storytelling in film. What baseball is to the kids in The Sandlot is exactly what baseball is to the movie. It is not about winning or losing just about enjoying the the joys of the gave. It drives the characters forward, but doesn’t leave the audience behind. You could take all the baseball out of this movie and the film still works. What is great about baseball here is that here there is no big game. No bottom of the 9th with 2 outs situation where the future rests on our hero’s shoulders. Just kids having fun. The most climatic baseball scene is in a game that has no meaning but the moment still serves a purpose. When the rival team comes charging in you get the sense we are about to enter a familiar world. But the game isn’t even close and is more of a showcase for some of the most classic insults of all time. Ones used in every Little League the summer this came out.
This demonstrates the difference between plot and story. Yes the plot is rather basic and simple, but the story is within the details. This very much reminds me of what someone like Richard Linklater likes to do with his films. His stories are told through the interactions of his characters and that is the same with The Sandlot. A big reason why I see Everybody Wants Some as a college age version of this movie. The conflict and stakes are far more internal than external. It is not about winning championships or beating your rival. It is learning about who you truly are as a person. I hope after watching The Sandlot my son will see what can be brilliant about a simple story that allows its characters to drive events.
Well most importantly The Sandlot will make sure of two things. My son knows who the Great Bambino is and that at one time kids did play outside with very little adult supervision. A big reason you could never remake this movie in current time is due to today’s Helicopter parents. They would have swooped in the moment kids decided to play baseball without the proper protective equipment.
The real lessons the film shows is the impact of peer pressure in a hyper realistic but true to life fashion. Remember those videos we watched as a kids during Health class? They would make peer pressure look like it was when a kid in a torn leather jacket would try to convince you to smoke a cigarette in a the school bathroom. Even better was when the dorkiest kid in the world would be invited to the cool kid party. Then we would would be told that famous line, “Everybody’s doing it!’ as they are passed around whatever was the drug of choice of the time.
In reality peer pressure is much more subtle and comes from our desire to belong. You see that here as Smalls chooses on his own accord to steal his Stepfather’s baseball because he knows it will get him in good with the guys. No one told him to do it. In fact there is a good chance they would have told him not to if they knew the entire story, but Smalls felt compelled because he wanted them to accept him as their friend.
There is a more traditional peer pressure scene as well. You can point to the chewing tobacco scene which better demonstrates what it is like when someone gets a substance they know they are not supposed to have. It happens so fast that the kids do not have time to really contemplate what exactly they are doing. The results are more drastic than you would see in normal life, but it still provides a great conversational point.
The Sandlot also shows that there is a positive side to peer pressure, which may seem odd at first. The key is where that pressure is coming from. Smalls was lucky enough to be surrounded by a general good group of kids that lead him to break out of his shell and try new things. He was pressured by his peers to get out of his room and experience life.
There are other life lessons as well. How people can allow their imaginations ti lead them to believe the unbelievable. How the easiest answer is often right in front of you. Think about how the entire final third would be different if they simply went to Mr. Mertle’s front door. That also gets to another lesson about not judging people based on rumor or hearsay.
Ultimately though the lesson that rises above them all is what it says about peer pressure. I could see trying to provoke conversations about being in the same situation as Smalls and what could have been done differently. How do you know when your friends are leading you on the right path vs the wrong path? Not bad for a movie about a bunch of kids playing baseball in the backyard.
Lastly I finish with any concerns I may have showing my son this movie. When it comes to The Sandlot I do wonder if my personal experience allows me to relate to this film in a way my son won’t. If he hates or simply does not care about baseball I could see that getting in the way of enjoying much of what this film is about. It is a love letter to baseball and the feelings it can conjure up. If he knows less about Babe Ruth than Smalls does will he find The Sandlot crew too close minded? Will the fact that these kids are growing up in a world that happened sixty years ago make it seem archaic to him? I can only hope the colorfulness of the characters will break down those barriers and allow him to enjoy it the same way I did.