Movie Plot Breakdown: Trouble With the Curve

By Stacy Melanie Jerger (@Apoideaedits)

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While Trouble With the Curve was a satisfying movie containing an introduction to a problem and resolving it at the end, this movie is a good example of having a muddled and murky structure. I had trouble identifying the plot points of this movie. Although Gus (Clint Eastwood) is the main character, his estranged daughter Mickey (Amy Adams) is the character who changes and develops the most.

We are introduced to Gus’ life immediately. His framed photos of him and famous baseball players, his bumping into furniture in a house he’s supposed to be familiar with, and his gross eating habits (Spam from the can). There is something ordinary yet special about Gus. He’s a seasoned baseball scout.

To add to his day-to-day problems and lonely life, we find out his eyesight is deteriorating and his relationship with his daughter is strained.

The theme is introduced: data vs. instinct. Gus’ friend Pete (John Goodman) tells him the Atlanta Braves want to pick up a player named Bo Gentry. Everything about Bo looks spectacular in a computer system, but Pete needs Gus to observe him and confirm. It’ll be Gus’ last job before the Braves make him retire.

Also, this movie peppers in a lot of little loose threads and clues that tie up at the end. For instance, Gus says indeed Bo looks good on paper, but the Braves really need a stellar pitcher, not another batter. Rigo Sanchez becomes that pitcher later on.

Inciting Incident

If Gus has an inciting incident, it would be the knowledge of his eyesight failing. Pete sees how much Gus is struggling. Gus orders a pizza for breakfast, he bumps into his furniture, and he refuses to use computers to do his job as a baseball scout. He prefers the old ways, and Pete worries his friend is getting too old and losing his ability to scout. In reaction, Pete creates Mickey's inciting incident (the disturbance in her world). Pete asks Mickey to accompany Gus to North Carolina, where he will be observing Bo.

Additional observation: When there are two equally stubborn characters like Gus and Mickey, outside characters are needed to interfere in their lives. That’s Pete’s role. He gets the plot rolling.

Lock in/Doorway One (End of Act 1)

Suddenly, Mickey’s journey becomes front and center. She thinks about what Pete said. Even though she initially refused to help, she can’t stop worrying about her father. She calls up his doctor to find out for herself if Gus is all right, only to learn that Gus may have a degenerative eye disease. Even though there is a lot of pressure at her law firm for her to become a partner, she goes to North Carolina to help him.

Carrying the theme: Mickey is casually seeing someone and he wants to take it to the next level with her. He says together they look great on paper, and therefore, are perfect for each other. But Mickey's instinct says otherwise. What we learn later is that looking good on paper isn’t a tried-and-true method to determining success.

Midpoint

I would say the midpoint is shared between Gus and Mickey. Although they’ve butted heads constantly, they usually connect over baseball. There’s a scene after a game where Gus pitches to Mickey and she hits the ball to the outfield. As she runs around the bases, she enjoys a victory dance. It’s a fake high point. They’re having fun, but their problems are far from being resolved.

Additional observations: An outside character once again intervenes and keeps the dynamic between Mickey and Gus from getting static: Johnny Flanagan (Justin Timberlake). Johnny brings lighthearted relief to the butting heads dynamic and also develops Mickey emotionally with his romantic pursuit of her.

Things get worse: Gus and Mickey both see that Bo can hit a straight pitch, but his hands drift and he probably can’t hit a curve ball. He’s not the star player everybody thinks he is, but the other scouts back at Braves’ headquarters think Gus is losing it. Everything on their computer tells them Bo is the next number one player to change baseball history.

Main Culmination/Doorway 2 (End of Act 2)

Mickey discovers Rigo Sanchez (the peanut seller during games) practicing pitching with his younger brother. Like Gus, Mickey knows baseball talent when she sees it (and hears it). She realizes this is her true calling. She's ready to overcome her limitations, make Gus proud, and show the Braves who the real talented ballplayer is. Even though the Braves had ignored Gus and signed Bo, she forces Pete to let Rigo tryout.

The Braves realize Bo can’t hit anything Rigo pitches (fastballs and curve balls). Rigo is the clear talent, not Bo. Bo has trouble with the curve!

Remember when Gus said to Pete that the Braves really needed a pitcher, not another batter? Well, Mickey fulfilled that need.

Third Act Twist (Last Test for Hero)

The last test is Mickey’s. (Like I said, even though Gus is the main character, all of this development is happening to Mickey.) Mickey’s law firm offers her the partnership she’s been hoping for, but she passes on that hard-earned dream. She decides she wants to be a baseball agent after her success with Rigo.

My final thoughts…

Because of these murky plot points, as a manuscript editor I would have suggested Mickey be the main character and her relationship with Gus be her problem she has to solve. Of course, for a movie, one cannot make Clint Eastwood a secondary character, but structurally, it would’ve made more sense with what’s been laid out. “Trouble with the curve” could very well have a double meaning: Mickey’s learning curve to change her life and prove herself to her father.

Have you ever seen Trouble With the Curve? Did you have similar thoughts about this movie or did you identify other scenes as plot points?