BY LE LE MAC
Colonialism. Imperialism. Orientalism. I feared that this film was just an expression of all these isms, when all I knew about the plot is that an American travels to India to find young cricket players (a popular sport in India), and trains and coverts them into being the next big baseball pitchers, an all-American sport. Good old exploitation of the East for American gains, right? I was pleasantly surprised that that wasn’t the case. Million Dollar Arm succeeds in being an expression of cultural exchange between the East and the West, all wrapped up in a feel-good sports film.
The main character, JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is a struggling sports agent, trying to make it on his own but struggles to compete with the big sports agency that has the financial backing to keep all the big sports stars in their Beverly Hills’ mansions. In an effort to save his business and maintain his lavish, bachelor, LA lifestyle, he has a light bulb moment when he watches a cricket game on TV… and Britain’s Got Talent. He comes up with the idea to travel to India and find cricket players who can throw a fastball to be the next baseball star through hosting a reality show competition called The Million Dollar Arm, the Arm winning $1 million.
JB finds cricket players, but, unfortunately, none who can throw a fastball. Cricket players use their arm differently to throw a ball and require different movement from baseball players, making cricket and baseball as comparable as apples and oranges. Yes, this was a display of cultural ignorance.
In the beginning of JB’s trip, he was resistant to Indian culture, explicitly depicted by his frustration with everything in India from its climate to how businesses operate. The scene that resonates most with me is the subtle image of JB expressing “city sickness” when he stares out at the chaotic Indian city landscape from his hotel balcony, after his bout of diarrhea. He projects the chaos he currently experiences in his life onto the Indian city, making him physically sick.
JB eventually finds two young men who have good arms and are capable of throwing fastballs, Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal), and brings them to LA to train with the best baseball coach there is, played by Bill Paxton. At first, JB treats them as if they’re just investments, and their performance suffers because of this cold, one-sided relationship.
To ease this tense relationship is Brenda (played by the all-so-charming Lake Bell), JB’s tenant and love interest who befriends the group of men. She acts as the translator of emotions between Rinku and Dinesh and JB. She seeks to understand the boys’ perspective and simultaneously helps JB be a better man. She plays the integral role that helps develop JB, Rinku and Dinesh’s characters.
The film starts being a mode of cultural exchange when we see Rinku and Dinesh expressing their bewilderment of American culture: JB is an old, single man who lives in a big, empty house and fills his spare time with empty relationships with models and channel surfing on his big screen TV. This lifestyle contrasts Rinku and Dinesh’s familial and collective lifestyle where we see touching moments of the boys’ parents hugging their sons with pride and worry as they leave their village for America. This contrasting lifestyle is judgment enough on the American Dream: it’s big, but empty. Seeing all these characters develop through this cultural exchange is definitely worth watching.
Based on a true story, Million Dollar Arm is a heart-warming, Disney moment-filled film that you can bring your significant other, best friend, mom, dad, cousin, kids, neighbours to see and enjoy.
Le Le Mac’s passion in film started when she would watch several Chinese films a week so that she could learn how to be more fluent in her mother tongue. Her passion then led her to study film and the Asian diaspora in Canada in graduate school. She is currently writing film reviews as a hobby. She is a big fan of Radiohead and tea. She has 40 different types of tea in her collection, and will often host tea parties. She currently lives in Toronto with her husband.