Filled with warmth, spirit and poetic charm, The Perfect Game is about much more than baseball and children. It’s a bittersweet, historically candid stroll down memory lane defining with raw and resonant clarity, who we are as a people and a nation.
Based on real events that played out in 1957 when the ragtag Little League team from Monterrey, Mexico beat enormous odds to prevail in that year’s US world series championship, The Perfect Game is as much about sports trophies as a triumph over the rampant racism and sexism of the time. And that rare film for children presenting problem-solving solutions other than violence, and which has much to impart to adults as well as kids about coping mechanisms in a not always welcoming world.
Directed and co-written by William Dear, The Perfect Game stars Clifton Collins Jr. as Cesar, a gifted ball player who can’t seem to get to first base in more ways than one, with the St. Louis Cardinals. Stuck in a dead end job instead as locker room attendant with the Cardinals because he’s shunned as a Latino despite his athletic talent, a disgusted and bitter Cesar returns to his poverty stricken Mexican village where he toils in an iron foundry, and drowns his despair in alcohol.
When parish priest and baseball fan Padre Estaban (Cheech Marin) helps set up a baseball playing field for the local boys to keep them out of mischief, they look to Cesar to help them hone their skills, since he’s rumored to have been with a big team up north. And while not into correcting the unfounded rumors and exacerbating his deep seated racial humiliation, Cesar begrudgingly agrees to train the kids, after a great deal of pestering on their part. Which proves to be the tentative emotional cure for what’s been ailing him.
Though fairly conventional as athletic competition on the field, the film is a powerful tale as it plays out between games, a kind of progressive journey north into the dark heart of Jim Crow and a shameful US buried history, as experienced through the traumatized but resilient hearts and minds of these underdog kids in more ways than one.
And while confronting that grim reality, the director never allows his characters to succumb to their circumstances, offering instead hefty doses of resolve, inspirational hope and humor. Added to that heady and heartfelt mix is Emilie de Ravin as Frankie, a ridiculed cub reporter for daring to infiltrate the good old boys club at her newspaper and not get married instead. And though consigned to covering Little League as a joke, she eventually figures out how to play the game her way while exposing Jim Crow, and get even with the macho overbearing boss back at the office.
Equal parts bilingual David and Goliath and The Great Debaters with bats instead, The Perfect Game is steeped in touching moments. Including Cheech as a cleric on a very different kind of high; Lou Gosset Jr. as yet another baseball outcast who knows what it’s like to have a gift but live in the shadows of the professional sports world; rebel iron foundry workers likewise championing something equally important in life as a living, namely respect; and Mexican locals gathering in the town square, captivated by the final series game on the single radio in the village. The Perfect Game to sum up, is a nearly perfect winner.
3 1/2 stars