Starring: Kevin Costner, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon
Director: Ron Shelton
Running Time: 108 mins
Bull Durham is an American film about the story of the romance between a woman and two of the top players from her town’s little-league baseball team. However, the trio’s differing attitudes to all things love and baseball create complications for their relationships.
Kevin Costner’s big romantic hits often take a lot of stick for being cheesy, and while there’s certainly evidence for that in this film, Bull Durham actually has more than enough brains and depth throughout, making for an engaging, likable and often even genuinely emotional watch.
The biggest positive about this film is that, although it styles itself as somewhat of a romantic comedy, there’s so much more to it than silly awkward moments or cheesy gestures of love. There is still some of that knocking about, so rom-com fans need not despair, but in terms of telling a good story, Bull Durham does very well to avoid the tropes of the genre and bring more depth into play.
The core of that dramatic depth comes from the clashes and difficulties between the three leads. Susan Sarandon plays an intelligent and likable fan of the team, but often seems almost hell-bent on getting the players to fall in love with her. Meanwhile, Tim Robbins plays a talented but rather dumb pitcher, and Kevin Costner is the thoughtful and complex love interest that often works as the antithesis of what Sarandon’s character is working for.
Now, not only are all three of those performances great throughout, but that real conflict between the three is something that you really don’t see explored in such detail and depth in the romantic comedy genre. You might say that it works out in the same fashion as a typical love triangle, but rather than simplistic and superficial reasoning for the failures and frictions of a love triangle, Bull Durham sees each of the characters’ moral and romantic compasses fully tested as they attempt to navigate a complex and difficult relationship.
Lesser films would simply have one desirable and one undesirable love interest among whom Sarandon’s character would naturally move towards the right one, but Bull Durham’s two main men have more nuance to them than simply that. Of course, there are moments of more superficial cheese, and the film doesn’t perhaps hit the heights of really impressive romantic drama at any time, but I was really impressed to see it tackling the genre in a way that brings more ambiguity and thought into a story that could be told in a much more simplistic way.
So, as a romance, I have to say that Bull Durham works really rather well, and far better than the cheesy drama I expected to see at first. However, more than romance, the film’s comedy and baseball antics also play a role, albeit not quite as an impressive one.
As I said earlier, the film is a very likable watch, but that’s largely as a result of the charismatic performances from Sarandon, Robbins and Costner throughout. When it comes to the comedy, though, I wasn’t quite as bowled over at any point. There are some witty lines and awkward moments to spark the odd chuckle, but it often misses the mark with some of the larger laughs, which proves a little disappointing too.
Also, the baseballing side to the story really isn’t as inspiring or entertaining as you may hope. Sports stories are always difficult to tell in an interesting way, considering you only ever have a win-lose outcome in Hollywood, so that’s why it’s good that the romance is the core focus of Bull Durham.
However, when the story is focusing more on the on-pitch action, it’s easy to get a little bored, and even more so if you’re not a baseball enthusiast, considering the amount of fairly incomprehensible lines and philosophies the film spouts drawing the parallels between the game and life. The baseball element of the story does at least set the film apart from the more generic romantic comedies, but it doesn’t quite play a big or interesting enough role throughout to feel entirely justified.
Overall, I liked Bull Durham. Principally a strong romantic story thanks to impressive depth and characterisation that’s often lacking in the genre, furthered by three charismatic and likable performances from Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner. The film may not have the comedic brilliance it often aims for, and its baseballing allegories are often a little bemusing, but it still proves an engaging and entertaining watch throughout, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.2.