The Bad News Bears is the quintessential sports movies about a ragtag group of misfits and losers. If there was ever a worthy heir to Charlie Brown’s club it was these fellows, but that’s not the end of it. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and the Bears pick up the slack after numerous drubbings. They somehow acquire Morris Buttermaker’s reluctant pitching prodigy Amanda (Tatum O’Neal), and their new star is town delinquent Kelly Leak (a boy who smokes cigarettes and rides a Harley). They begin to climb the ranks, and Buttermaker realizes his squad has a fighting chance to make it to the championship game.
Things become more and more competitive culminating in the final showdown against the hated Yankees, coached by Roy Turner (Vic Morrow). Buttermaker has recently become a hard-nosed jerk solely focused on winning, but he has a mid-game change of heart. He lets his boys play, clears his bench, and the results are good if not great. However, The Bad News Bears can be proud that they left their heart out on the field, and the Yankees will be going down the next year for sure. The most important thing is that they played together as a team with a lot to be proud of.
Walter Matthau has enough of the lovable grouch in him to make it work, although he does have the foul mouth to go with it. Amanda is the perfect counter for Buttermaker because they both have spirit and fiery impudence. O’Neal perfected the pout after Paper Moon (1973) and it’s still going strong here. However, she is not the only one. On a team that is populated by a few nerds and weaklings, there also are a share of sharp tongues and real potty mouths.
Carmen is a nice touch during the rout scenes, and it makes me think they never heard of the mercy rule, but I guess it is the 1970s and we have to have drama after all. This is far from a kids movie, but it probably resonates with the many adults who played organized baseball as kids.
The film is a satire of American’s Pastime for this audience because even on the smaller stage of Little League the game often gets blown way out of proportion. It becomes a question of are we playing it for the love of the game or to win at all costs (even if it means family turmoil). Morrow’s character epitomizes just how far parents will go because they become so involved in the lives of their kids. Wanting to live vicariously through them, they push their children until they can no longer be kids, but must be perfect instead. The Bad News Bears choose to play the game for fun as it was meant to be played, and that is partly thanks to Buttermaker. They are not done yet though because there are still many more life lessons to be learned. I’m not sure if I said this yet, but this film actually made me laugh a lot since it began as a comedy errors and only then did it turn into a satire. The comedy was certainly present, but not the most important.