Chasing the Dream
Hard to believe at my age, but I’ve started thinking again about how much fun it would be to dance with the Rockettes. What caused this ambition to resurface so late in life? A movie, of course. In The Rookie, Dennis Quaid plays a middle-aged teacher and family man who gets a second chance to achieve his dream of becoming a Major League pitcher. Like Disney’s The Kid, this sweet film caused me to remember my childhood dreams. Because it’s based on a true story, The Rookie inspired me even more.
As soon as I arrived home from this flick, I put on my old tap shoes --- and much to my surprise, I began tapping faster than I ever did as a teenager! My granddaughter, who saw me practicing, pleaded with me to consider trying out for the Rockettes. I agreed, but only if she and her dance group won their next Las Vegas competition. Okay, I’m a copycat. That’s the same kind of trick Jim Morris (Quaid) used to motivate the high school baseball team he coaches in The Rookie.
There’s a big difference here, however. Coach Morris’ story actually happened. Mine didn’t. (But, darn, wouldn’t Debbie Reynolds be great in a movie about a senior citizen resurrecting her tap dancing career?) After giving up his ambition to pitch in the Major League because of an injury, Morris became a high school science teacher and baseball coach in a little Texas town. When his students noticed how fast he threw practice pitches, they promised to win the state championship for him if he would tryout for the Major League again.
The casting of Quaid (Frequency) as Morris helps make this movie a joy to watch --- even with its generally slow pace. Producer Mark Johnson (What Lies Beneath) got it right when he said, "Dennis Quaid is the quintessential American hero. I think of him like the movie stars of the past --- like a Gary Cooper or a Jimmy Stewart --- in the way he carries himself, in the way he’s acting when he’s not saying anything, when he’s just reacting."
Whether smiling at the antics of his three small children, staring adoringly at his supportive wife (Rachel Griffiths from Blow), frowning at an outfielder’s missed catch, or gazing with amazement at an immense baseball stadium, Quaid’s reactions as the conflicted Morris are spot-on. This sensitive portrayal really got to me. My heart went out to Morris, especially when he showed a deep sadness at his father’s (Brian Cox from Rushmore) lack of support and at missing his family while he’s on the road.
I’m not a baseball fan --- so many movies about the game leave me cold. Hardball and For Love of the Game come to mind. But The Rookie charmed me with its old-fashioned family values, down-to-earth characters, and small-town atmosphere. The young actors playing Morris’ student baseball players contributed to my feeling about the reality behind this film. They look and behave like students I once taught in high school years ago.
Kudos to director John Lee Hancock (producer of My Dog Skip) and screenwriter Mike Rich (Finding Forrester) for their thoughtful work on this G-rated film. In my book, The Rookie ranks as first-class family entertainment.
(Released by Walt Disney Pictures and rated "G" as suitable for all audiences.)