It’s officially summer time here in the good ol’ U.S. of A. And you know what that means? Cookouts, bathing suits, and the never ending search for the perfect summer movie.
You’ll know it immediately when you see it. The film is chock full of nostalgia and reminds you of your kiddo days when vacation stretched on forever and you filled every moment of it with wacky outdoor activities. The perfect summer movie has to remind you of that time you lost a Babe Ruth signed baseball over a fence to the resident neighborhood monster, or when you snuck chewing tobacco into the carnival and hurled over all the pretty girls in their poodle skirts.
So you can understand why The Sandlot is the perfect summer movie. Sure, none of us really did any of this crap. Summer vacations were spent mostly indoors watching cartoons and reruns of “I Love Lucy” while screaming petulantly at your mom to make you a sandwich, but after watching this baseball themed gem of a flick, you’ll swear that you were a loyal and wholesome child of the early 60′s.
The premise of the movie sees geeky kid Scotty “Smalls” Smalls move to a new town with his mother and newly minted stepfather. Eager for acceptance, Smalls falls in with a ragtag group of baseball obsessed youngsters led by Benny. When Smalls loses a valuable baseball over the fence of the rundown Sandlot, it’s up to him and his new amigos to retrieve it from the clutches of “The Beast.”
Yeah, that’s not really what this movie is about. Not to me, and not to most people. For the first two-thirds of the movie, the film centers on the minutiae of childhood summer vacation…things like playing sports, going to the local carnival, being wowed by fireworks, and swimming at the local public pool (you know…where the hot lifeguard works).
The movie works more as a series of rambling, ambling short stories with a series of plot elements and themes woven expertly throughout. What it does best, though, is give you that sense of childhood friendship. There’s never really any “heavy” moments; it’s always just kids being kids–teasing each other, goofing off, and having fun. Somehow, though, this group begins to bond in a powerful way, and by the end of the film we’re legitimately sad to see the band break up. Most of the events of the film are light and silly, but they somehow bring this group together in a way that feels very real and familiar.
To be honest, my least favorite part of this film is the “Beast” plot that takes over in the last act. Don’t get me wrong…it’s well done and funny and clever, but I enjoyed hanging out with these kids enough that I didn’t need any kind of “ticking clock” or “crisis situation” to enjoy myself.
But I will admit: the payoff is great. I’m not talking about the unnecessary “flash forward in time” ending, but about the Beast’s revelation and the childhood wrap up. If you’ve seen the film, you know what I’m talking about.
To call this movie “pure fun” would be a little flippant and unfair. It’s sense of friendship and nostalgia make it so much more. Still, if you want a “feel good” time in front of your home cinema screen, this is one to check out over the summer with a bowl of popcorn and a pitcher of lemonade.
If you haven’t seen it, do so immediately. If you have, the rewatch value is off the charts. I first found this one as a kid and wore out the VHS tape. A few months ago I rediscovered it in a five dollar Wal-Mart bin. It’s a shame how many unmitigated classics are relegated to the bargain bins of local electronics stores and supermarkets, but I gobbled it up just the same. It’s one of those movies that you can put in any time you aren’t sure what kind of movie watching mood you’re in. Within five minutes, it puts you in the right mood for the film…a rare feat.
Whatever you do, though, avoid the sequels like the plague. I know it’s tempting to watch lesser filmmakers try and capture lightning in a bottle, but there is only one The Sandlot. Accept no substitutes.