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Million Dollar Arm

John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

CNS photo/Disney
Strong humane values permeate director Craig Gillespie's breezy baseball-themed conversion story "Million Dollar Arm" (Disney).

So it's a shame that some relatively discreet, but still misguided sexual content precludes endorsement of the film for youthful viewers—all the more so, since screenwriter Tom McCarthy shows unusual restraint in his use of objectionable language.

McCarthy's fact-based script introduces us to down-on-his-luck Los Angeles sports agent JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm). Facing bankruptcy after their bid to sign a major NFL star (Rey Maualuga) falls through, JB and his India-bred partner Aash (Aasif Mandvi) are desperate to find an alternative moneymaker.

Partly inspired by Ash's love for the game of cricket, JB hits on the scheme of traveling to his colleague's homeland and staging an "American Idol"-type reality show in which cricket bowlers will try their skills at pitching. The two players who come out on top in the completion, JB announces, will receive not only a cash prize but the opportunity to travel to the States and train for a major-league tryout.

Despite some culture shock on both sides of the divide, and despite the comic eccentricities of Ray Poitevint (Alan Arkin), the retired scout Ash hires to help judge the contest, JB's plan succeeds. And he acquires the volunteer services of local baseball enthusiast Amit (the single-named Pitobash) along the way.

But personal challenges arise when JB returns to the Left Coast with victors Rinku (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh (Madhur Mittal) in tow. Since both were raised in remote rural villages, they find life in urban America utterly bewildering. Though slightly more sophisticated, Amit, who has also made the journey to California to serve as the lads' coach, is almost equally at sea.

Thus begins JB's transformation from callous, business-obsessed loner to protective mentor. JB is also being changed by his warming relationship with Brenda (Lake Bell), the comely tenant who occupies a cottage on his property.

JB and Brenda's romance is marked by premature intimacy. Though this takes place off-screen, a morning-after "walk of shame" for JB is followed up by some banter about the situation among the male characters. Interestingly, all three Indian men take it for granted that JB will now marry Brenda. Though JB shrugs off the idea, it's clear that the pair does have a future together.

To that extent, however flawed JB's bond with Brenda may be, it too marks something of a moral advance for him. As earlier scenes have shown us, up to now, JB has devoted himself to throwaway liaisons with fashion models.

Along with learning to place people ahead of profits, JB's growth also involves becoming more open to religion, though in a way that may leave Christian moviegoers with mixed feelings.

Hindu devotions are very much integral to the lives of the two would-be pitchers and their coach. At first, JB wants no part of this, and goes so far as to state flatly, "I don't pray." Yet, by the time the picture concludes, we've seen him join his friends in prayer—both before a meal and in front of a makeshift shrine they've erected.

However mature viewers may choose to receive this aspect of the movie, it's another reason to leave the impressionable at home.

The film contains nonmarital situations, an implied premarital encounter, a smattering of sexual humor and some crass language. The Catholic News Service classification is A-III—adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG—parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.

John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.

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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.

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