Directed by: Craig Gillespie. If I didn’t have to see this movie for a review for a real publication, I likely never would have seen it. Frankly, the poster makes it look like a lame, family-friendly, feel-good Disney movie, which it basically is. In the other review, I called it a Scrooge narrative nestled inside a Cool Runnings remake, but really, that’s pretty misleading because this movie isn’t as good as either of those stories. Imagine Cool Runnings if the young ethnic athletes aren’t a lively, endearing focal point, but instead are the incidental side notes to the grumpy white guy’s story. All racial stuff aside (and with this movie, it’s probably best to just pretend like it’s about 20 years ago when it comes to racial stuff), what’s the more interesting story? Two young kids from rural India who are swept up in the dreams of a rich American trying to get richer, the hopes and dreams of their parents, their whole village riding on them being successful at something as crazy as leaving their homes to live in Los Angeles, USA, and train for a year to get a chance at becoming American baseball pitchers for the major leagues, reconciling their small-town, religious, spiritual personalities with the fast-paced, materialistic excesses of LA and the world of American celebrity, OR, a story about a selfish, materialistic, rich asshole trying to get richer off the backs of a couple of Indian kids, and who, by falling in love with a doctor instead of a supermodel, learns to be slightly less of a materialistic, selfish asshole? I’m sure the filmmakers were trying to balance those two stories, but as you can tell from that movie poster, the scales were tipped slightly in favour of the rich white guy instead of the ethnic teens—really it’s about an 80/20 split—mostly because, as you can see from the poster, instead of John Candy it’s Don Draper, I mean, Jon Hamm.
The handsome leading man is a major selling point of the movie, and judging by the awkward, only half-functional script, I suspect a Hollywood hatchet job here, where the filmmakers alter the story into a weird shape once they realize they have TV star Jon Hamm involved, a handsome face to put on the poster which, frankly, will draw more bums in the seats than the kid from Slumdog Millionaire and the kid from Life of Pi combined (though they are both very talented). And, yes, I know it’s “based on a true story” but don’t get me started on Hollywood as a vehicle of fantasy to deliberately escape from reality, to deliberately distort “true stories” in order to function as wish-fulfillment (and if you don’t believe me, just take a look at the picture of the real J.B. Bernstein that comes up before the credits and compare it with Don Draper—I mean, Jon Handsome—I mean, Jon Hamm). All joking aside, it’s hard to tell if the difficulty I had separating Jon Hamm from his familiar role in Mad Men owes more to a subjective quirk on my part or to the fact that it can be extremely difficult for a well-known TV actor to escape the association of their career-making TV persona. The results vary—George Clooney vs Alan Alda vs Kelsey Grammer—and watching this movie really reinforces how open a question it is whether or not Hamm the actor can outrun the shadow of his creation Don Draper. I have yet to see him in a movie role that doesn’t involve him with nice hair and a suit and tie. If he wants to outrun that shit, he needs to do it, and quick. In short, if Jon Hamm wants to save his post-Mad Men career, he needs to grow a fucking beard.