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Bury My Heart at Fenway Park

Jeff Powers

Reverse the Curse (2023)

Based on his work as a writer, David Duchovny loves three things: New York City, erudite puns and baseball. He has written novels which tackle each of these subjects individually, but began his public writing career with an episode of "The X-Files" (the '90s TV show/zeitgeist in which he also starred) centered around baseball’s segregated Negro leagues. In the episode, set in the 1940s, a baseball-loving alien (Jesse L. Martin) decided to stay on earth as a black man so he could still play baseball without attracting major league attention. When the episode premiered it was a big surprise, both for its quality and the idea that an intellectual type such as Mr. Duchovny would have chosen a sports theme. But more importantly, the existence of the Negro leagues had been allowed to slide from pop-culture memory, and Mr. Duchovny’s willingness to confront his beloved sport's shameful past was noted and appreciated. "Reverse the Curse" doesn't operate on nearly as big a scale: It's about how sports is a bonding tool between men who otherwise prefer silence and makes no serious political points. In this case, the love of the game is supposed to be enough. And once again, somewhat to everyone’s surprise, it is.

It's 1978 and Ted (Logan Marshall-Green, enjoying a spectacular head of hair) has been struggling for years to write a successful novel. In the meantime he lives alone and works at Yankee Stadium, slinging peanuts with a knack for showmanship the crowd enjoys. One day he gets a startling call. His father, Marty (Mr. Duchovny), with whom he hasn't spoken in a few years, is in the end stages of cancer and under the care of end-of-life specialist Mariana (Stephanie Beatriz). Marty is so visibly unwell that Ted shocks himself by offering to look after him for a few days; and Marty shocks himself by accepting. So Ted moves back into his childhood home - in a change from the novel undoubtedly necessitated by the no-budget period setting, suburban New Jersey instead of Brooklyn - and sets about taking care of his dad. As is to be expected, it’s the movie kind of caretaking that involves nothing too gross and leaves plenty of time for reading and talking about baseball.

Marty is a diehard Boston Red Sox fan, a notable quirk in this part of the world, and it soon becomes apparent his good health depends on whether the Sox are winning. So Ted enlists the help of Marty's pals from the local barbershop (Evan Handler, Jason Beghe and Santo Fazio) to ensure Marty thinks games are being rained out and the Sox's winning streak continues. But the subterfuge goes to another level when Ted decides to track down a woman from Marty's past (Daphne Rubin-Vega in a key but small part). Otherwise the story stays focused on Ted, and whether in looking after Marty he'll start getting himself together too. The lovely Mariana with her Grateful Dead tattoo and mysterious past is of course a huge part of this, but the big clue here is what's said in Pamela Adlon's cameo as Ted's literary agent: His books have no plot because he hasn't suffered.

When a man wore an army jacket in 1978, there was probably some suffering involved, but the specter of Vietnam and Ted's late and barely-mentioned mother are water under the bridge compared to Marty's failures as a dad. This last chance to recover a family relationship and be able to articulate their love for each other is a pretty good hook, not least since Mr. Duchovny and Mr. Marshall-Green are clearly closely matched sparring partners whether battling with words or farts. Their longing for a better relationship and their desperation to achieve it before it’s too late need baseball, something safe and easy to talk about to pave the way to the real stuff.

Mr. Duchovny proves himself to be a good director in his Tribeca Festival return, comfortable in the period setting without overdoing it and not allowing the small budget to distract from the larger issues. His lack of vanity is also refreshing in a passion project; Mr. Marshall-Green always has center stage. Ms. Beatriz is a good foil for them both, just as intelligent and with her own life clearly happening out of shot, but this is a man’s movie. Jeff Powers's handheld camera achieves intimacy without being intrusive, the guitar-heavy soundtrack by Vincent Jones buoys the plot, and the fact that the finale takes place inside a car is completely appropriate for the father-son theme. If it had happened in Fenway Park, the focus would have been on the game, and not Ted and Marty’s bickering over and reaction to the game. No one thought Bucky Dent had it in him, and as the footage from the time shows, Mr. Dent knew that his achievement was going to be the biggest moment of his life. This may well be the case for Mr. Duchovny’s directing career, but if this is indeed his only shot, he’s made a perfectly respectable hit.

A correction was made on June 20, 2023: An earlier version of the review misstated the actress playing Ted's agent and the film being Mr. Duchovny's first at Tribeca. It was his second.


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