Nolan Ryan is one of the greatest baseball pitchers of all time. As a power pitcher he had one of the fastest pitches and broke record and after record, chasing Sandy Koufax’s milestones of most no-hitters and most strike-outs. Many of his records are still unbeaten and could stay that way. He played for the Mets and the Angels but found that his home state of Texas was calling and made the career move to the Astros and eventually the Rangers. He played a whopping 27 seasons. And while he didn’t finish on top, he did have a marvelous career that got better even when he reached his 40s. We don’t talk enough about how much of a baseball legend Nolan Ryan is… and one documentary sets out to fix that.
Directed Bradley Jackson, Facing Nolan is a charming documentary that is sure to please any crowd. At the world premiere, Jackson called it a love letter to baseball and to Texas. This film has a lot of heart and treats its subject with both reverence and tongue-in-cheek humor. Nolan is portrayed as a family man who was extraordinary talented but never let his career take him away from what mattered most to him. His wife Ruth Nolan is an integral part of his success and her story runs parallel to his throughout the film. Talking heads include friends and family, retired baseball players, particularly Nolan’s peers, journalists, experts and the man himself. The documentary does a great job creating both tension and laugh out loud moments. Viewers will come away from this film with newfound appreciation for Nolan Ryan’s extraordinary career.
Facing Nolan had its world premiere at the 2022 SXSW Film Festival.
Note to add: Facing Nolan will be released theatrically June 24th and digitally July 19th. Visit the official website for more details.
“This is about the playing. Not the winning or losing. It’s about having fun.”
Michael (Garret Dillahunt) is eager to work as assistant coach for his son’s little league baseball team. But he gets more than he bargained for with head coach Don (John C. McGinley). These two are as different as could be. Michael was a curling champ in his youth and fondly remembers the spirit of the game and has long forgotten any wins. Don, on the other hand, remembers every game and holds personal grudges when circumstances led to a catastrophic loss. Their coaching styles clash, confusing the kids who don’t know who to listen to. Should they buy into Michael’s brand of everyone-is-a-winner mentality? Or should they listen to coach Don who believes every game is a fight for glory? As the season progresses we learn more about the complicated histories of these two coaches. Michael is a recent widower starting fresh in a new town. Don is having marital issues causing him to put more of his focus on the game. Will the two find a way to work together to help the team make it to the championships?
Benched is the feature film directorial debut for Robert Deaton and George Flanigen. Unlike other movies about elementary school sports, the focus here is not on the kids but on the adults. I thought this was a curious choice for the filmmakers. Besides some scenes singling out a couple of the kids in particular and a thorough introduction to each team member, we really don’t know much about them as characters. They’re not who were rooting on. Instead it’s the two coaches, both of whom are navigating through a transitional period in their lives.
Adding just a touch of estrogen to the film is Jlynn Johnson who plays Carolyn, a love interest for both Michael and Don. I wish her character was more complex but there wasn’t much room in the film for her part to bloom and blossom.
The clash between Michael and Don is a sort of metaphor for a divided America. Michael is the stereotypical lazy liberal, accepting of many, encouraging of any effort and sees all the kids as equals in their field. Don is the hard-nosed conservative with a winners-versus-losers mentality who is very vocal about the team’s hierarchy. They learn from each other and ultimately have to compromise. Perhaps the message here is a political one rather than one of personal motivation.
If you’re looking for a positive sports movies featuring kids overcoming obstacles, then look elsewhere. Benched is a much different movie. It’s a complex study of disparate individuals, in this case, two adults. The film starts off a bit cheesy and awkward but once it picks up I found it quite engrossing. The baseball scenes were fun to watch and I found myself rooting on the team. If you like sports movies and want to try something a bit different, give Benched a shot.
Benched is screening in select theaters today and also available on VOD.