"42" earns roughly 42 stars...out of 100.
Summer 2013. My friend and his brother, 12, were over watching Django Unchained with me. You’re probably wondering what kind of person I am to show “Django” (and four other Tarantino films) to a twelve-year-old. Their mother was wondering, too. I recall her asking me why I didn’t show her son to alternative: “feel-good” movies.
I have nothing against wholesome, but there’s something that irks me about “feel-good.” There’s no feeling good when watching them because they’re just too corny. They’re never so bad they’re good, because their optimism makes you want to drive a screwdriver straight through your skull. “42” is pure fluff entertainment of that sort. It takes a cheesy approach to racism and does nothing at all to compensate for its manipulative charms. Hell, it’s a movie about Jackie Robinson, but it’s just as much about baseball as “Django” was about horseback riding.
In other words, if you look at the 1989 Oscar annals, this is 90% Driving Miss Daisy and 10% Field of Dreams. Both far better movies, by the way. The racism is distracting in 42, which gives it no chance at any awards ceremony. It’s the central theme, but we don’t want a movie where the racist white guys start to become fond of the meek black guy who has to have others defend him. We don’t want a movie where that’s shown to be how Jackie Robinson’s career began, and we don’t want a movie that makes that little sense. We want baseball.
42 takes the Disney approach so unstoppably, I’m having trouble understanding that Warner Bros. distributed this. Expect cornball dialogue and an agonizingly straightforward narrative. It’s funny that this narrative isn’t even introduced in a way that wants to interest us. War done, America loves baseball, now here’s Jackie Robinson! That’s what the opening montage seems to say, and after something so immensely predictable about Jackie Robinson, I was ready to ask, “What was that you said about the war being done with? Explain, please.”
I’m kind of sugarcoating it, guys. It’s worse than you think. Brian Helgeland wrote and directed 42. Less than two decades back, he co-wrote L.A. Confidential. And won awards for doing so! Thankfully, there is a saviour out there in the production. Harrison Ford is the beacon of light here. He transforms himself so well, you’d have to have seen every permutation of Ford to recognize his face, his voice, even his character. He sounds like an announcer on a game show. Thank you, Johnny Gilbert, for making this a watchable, maybe even tolerable experience.
I seem to remember Michelle Obama recommending 42 when it came out early this year. Has she recommended “Lincoln” to anyone? I mean, that’s about racism. And a U.S. President. And it’s a good movie. Oh yeah I think it’s won a few awards, too, hasn’t it? It’s won a few, oh what are those awards called… Otters, Oslos–Oscars! It’s won a few Oscars. Regardless, that’s something we’ll never be able to say about 42. I really wonder what she could have possibly seen in that.