By: Oberst Von Berauscht (Three Beers) –
Young Scott Smalls moves with his mother and stepmom into a new neighborhood in the summer of 1962. One day, Scott comes across a group of boys playing baseball in a makeshift backyard field and tries to join him. Initially rejected by many of the boys due to his lack of experience, and minimal knowledge of the game, he endears himself to the leader of the group Benny Rodriguez, who is also their best player. The Sandlot follows Smalls as he spends his summer learning the game and making the friends that would define the rest of his life. It is a sort of sentimental journey…
But not as sexy…
Like the best coming-of-age stories, The Sandlot features a cast of interesting young actors with distinctive personalities. These kids represent the kinds of people anyone might have known growing up, and as such are less characters, and more caricature. In any other film genre this might be considered a flaw, but young children are rarely people with depth, as they haven’t lived long enough to develop it. Instead, kids tend to take on very definable traits. You have Scott Smalls (or just “Smalls”) as the timid newcomer, desperate to please. “Squints” Palledorous is the kid who always seems to have an answer to everything. “Ham” Porter is the cantankerous kid, who is as quick to defend his pals as tear into everyone else.
He is also “The fat one”… because there always is.
And Benny Rodriguez is the wiser older kid whose experience has taught him to stand up for the little guy, because it wasn’t too long before that he was one himself.
The film benefits greatly from the nostalgia of golden-age baseball, of which the legends still loom large. Actor James Earl Jones provides a wonderful and vital role that gives the film true heart. The legend of “The Beast” is also something to behold. “The Beast” is a dog the Neighborhood kids all fear (the story is told in a brilliant flashback sequence which parodies b-movies of the time period), and any baseballs which fall into his yard are deemed lost forever…
The film isn’t without issues, with elements copied wholesale from movies such as Stand By Me and A Christmas Story. The movie cannot be compared to these as it came far later and on a lower budget, however the feeling of familiarity is definitely present. Admittedly, having grown up in the late 80s and early 90s I missed the boat on both of these other films, and The Sandlot was definitely my first experience with this sort of movie. As a result, the film’s impact was tempered in ensuing years due to my exposure to the far more influential examples above. But honestly, it was a well-made example of the genre, so should I really give it such a hard time? As I think about it, this is less a flaw, and more of a nitpick.
The Sandlot: Bruised, but not beaten
The movie has a tendency to push itself into cloying sappiness (one thing the film examples listed above tend to avoid). The narration in particular could have done with a bit less musing. Overall though this isn’t a major complaint.
In spite of a few flaws, this is a movie that you will remember… well
Take a Drink: for any reference of Babe Ruth
Take a Drink: for any run scored
Do a Shot: each time the ball goes over the fence