Really wanted to like it.
Oh, the film was fine. The nostalgia was done very well—old ballparks, classic uniforms, funky broadcaster lines. The baseball scenes were, mostly, excellent.
Yet 42’s demise is the demise of so many other sports movies: Cheese.
Man, was this film coated in cheese. Mounds upon mounds of cheese. Swiss. Cheddar. American. The type of cheese that shows Robinson, upon hitting home runs, standing at home plate to admire the flight of the ball (an act that, back in the 1940s, would have damned him to an eternity of fastballs to the head—be he white or black). The type of cheese that pipes in (dun-dun-dun!!) music every time someone breaks into a monologue. The type of cheese that makes every movement dramatic, every gesture dramatic, every word dramatic.
God, this was cheesy. Or, as the wife said afterward, very “Disney.” It sorta made me think of the two genres of Batman movies. There’s the Michael Keaton Batman, who’s quite serious at times, but is also quirky and fun. And there’s the Christian Bale Batman—a dark badass who doesn’t take shit. In 42, Robinson is Keaton. This is a film that, really, should have been dark and serious and even a bit somber. Instead, it was goofy and overly dramatic.
The moment that most irked me was when Pee Wee Reese, the Dodgers’ shortstop. wraps his arm around Robinson. This did, indeed, happen in real life, but for a fleeting moment; one that neither man considered to be monumental. In 42, though, the arm wrap changes everything. It’s a statement; a powerful spectacle; an ode to defiance. It’s also accompanied by one of the dumbest lines ever, something about Reese telling Robinson that, hey, maybe one day we’ll all wear your number.
Why does this all irk me? Because the story is friggin’ fantastic sans embellishment. Robinson is a hero. A pioneer. An icon. There’s no need to lie and exaggerate and BS the viewers; no reason to tell us he was never caught stealing as a rookie when, in fact, he was caught 11 times.