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Overall Rating

Awesome: 6.67%
Worth A Look: 6.67%
Pretty Bad40%
Total Crap: 6.67%

2 reviews, 3 user ratings

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Small Ball: A Little League Story
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by Chris Parry

"A shrill, unquestioning piece of worship for sports parents."
2 stars

It happens a lot that when you watch a documentary at a film festival, you want to reach through the screen and punch out the people you're watching. It happened to me recently during Fog of War, Bowling For Columbine, The Revolution Will Not be Televised, and The Corporation, but all of those instances of outrage were politicaly motivated and perfectly understandable (as well as the director's intention). In Small Ball, I wanted to reach up and punch out Little League moms and dads that seem, for some reason I can't fathom, to actually be sympathetically portrayed by respected documentary makers Louis Alvaraz and Andy Kolker. These women are upper-middle class assholes, living vicariously through their children, filling their empty lives with Ikea furniture, SUVs and days spent being 'part of the team', pushing their children to perfection simply because the dads are too busy earning a living to know what's going on at the diamond.

The kids of Aptos can sure as heck play baseball. They pitch, hit, field and win with a skill and regularity that would be the envy of any kid who has ever thrown on a baseball glove, and this documentary follows them as they roll through tournaments on their way to the Little League World Series.

But while the cameras roll, three things become apparent. 1: These kids are coached by borderline morons. 2: These kids are raised by borderline morons. 3: These kids are not morons, despite the whirlwind of high pressure and misguided parenting that surrounds their every move.

Okay, so it may sound like I'm being harsh, and to be fair, I'm sure I am exactly that. Maybe these moms tuck their kids in at night and tell them how much they love them, and maybe the coaches are simply so nervous in front of the camera that their true self isn't allowed near the surface. But damned if any of that is seen anywhere near the screen here.

You've got the coach that responds to his kid havinga sulk by slapping at the brim of his cap. you've got the stupid Popeye impressions that the kids seem to be more embarassed about than appreciative of. You've got the 'inspiring' pre-game talks that amount to, basically, "we've got to win here" (thanks dad, we were actually considering going the other way until you stepped up with your genius), and we've got mothers who seem to be so allured to the idea that their kids are the best in the world that nobody EVER says to the kids "You know, just enjoy yourselves. You'll remember this day forever, win or lose."

Now I've coached kids sports teams before, and in fact I had one team that went to the final four of the state soccer knockout tournament, so I like to think that I know a little about motivating kids the right way. What you must have is a love for the game. Your kids must be able to have fun losing, as long as they tried their absolute best to win. But one thing you never do is tell the kids they're the best, so that a victory becomes the standard and a loss becomes devastating. Sure, you want them to win, but you want them to enjoy the act of winning, not the five minute celebration afterwards and the interviews that follow.

The kids of Aptos had played together since they were five, and though they can hit and throw, it seems from watching this documentary that what they've learned best is to act like babies when things aren't going their way, because that's exactly what their coaches and parents do.

Which means Small Ball could have been a stinging documentary that exposes sports parents for the negative impact that they have on children's lives, instead of the Oprah-like home movie that it actually became. Alveraz and Kolker dropped the ball here, bringing in a finished work that looks as if it was bought and paid for by the very people that should have been it's subject. Nothing is questioned closely, nothingis investigated, nothing is thrown at anyone on camera but the simplest of softballs. Even the footage is weak, with just about every on-field moment that could have been interesting interrupted by endless shots of mothers jumping up and down in teary-eyed celebration. I wonder if they respond the same way when their kid brings home an 'A' in math.

Small Ball is weak stuff. It's a documentary for doting grandmothers. It's an intriguing topic, but an opportunity utterly and completely blown.

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originally posted: 03/15/04 08:06:54
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2004 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

7/06/04 karen really enjoyed's fluff, that's all it's meant to be. 4 stars
6/08/04 Mike Viall Well done, authentic 5 stars
3/15/04 Boombah Baby I hated these people too. 1 stars
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Directed by
  Andrew Kolker
  Louis Alvarez

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