2018, Movies

Screwball (2018, Billy Corben)

If I could describe this documentary about Biogenesis and Alex Rodriguez in one word, it would be “glib.” This is one of the glibbest documentaries I’ve ever seen. On the one hand, that makes for a pretty funny movie. On the other hand, the style is very over the top and the filmmakers appear to have little sympathy for one of the movie’s main participants.

This is a crazy story and it’s worth learning more about it, if you didn’t pay a lot of attention when it was in the news 5 years ago.

SPOILERS. Yes, seriously. Though the film is about something that happened and, if you’re a baseball fan, you know about, one of the production decisions is pretty funny, but if I tell you about it, you likely won’t find it funny when you see the movie.

This is a pretty hyper-stylized film which might be a problem with some subjects. But this is a film about performance enhancing drugs, so the style and tone are less of a problem than if this was, say, about drug dealers who kill people. 

About the style: the filmmakers make a bizarre decision to have children reenact the incidents the film discusses. This is mostly pretty damn funny, but it’s also gimmicky and I think that if you are in the wrong mood, or looking for a serious discussion of drug use, you will be really put off by it. But I felt it worked more than it didn’t.

I also want to mention the use of music in the film, which is pretty effective. There are two very “Latin” versions of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” which are both used pretty well. Also, I think I detected a Latin Jazz version of the coda from “Layla,” which is a pretty great musical gag given the Goodfellas reference earlier in the film.

But for me, there are a few pretty big problems:

  • I’m not sure the filmmakers are empathetic enough to one of their main protagonists, certainly the protagonist who deserves more of the audience’s empathy.
  • I wish they went into the details of the various criminal or possibly criminal acts discussed in the film – sometimes these felt glossed over in favour of comedy.
  • The kid actor thing is taken too far at the end and it doesn’t work for me.
  • Also, at the end there is needless moral hand-wringing about cheating, when the real issue, to me, is that A-Rod went to such lengths to cover up what he was doing, not that he cheated. (Also, in a film with all sorts of dubious behaviour, it’s odd that it’s the drug use of baseball players that’s considered the thing worthy of moral condemnation.)

But this is still a very entertaining film and it is a crazy, crazy story that deserves to be heard. I’d strongly recommend you watching it if you have any interest in criminality or kooky characters, you don’t need to care at all about baseball for this film to be enjoyable.


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