Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Movie Review: Stealing Home (1988)

A coming-of-age drama and romance, Stealing Home straddles a fine line between rich narrative and nostalgia overload in a wistful tale of broken dreams and first love.

As he carefully prepares for his next game, appreciating everything about the day, thirtysomething minor league baseball player Billy Wyatt (Mark Harmon) reflects on his life. Six months earlier his baseball career was washed-up and he was living in a scuzzy motel when his mother Ginny (Blair Brown) called to inform him of the suicide of Katie Chandler (Jodie Foster), his childhood babysitter, muse and first crush. 

Billy rushes home to Camden, New Jersey and in a series of flashbacks to his formative years recalls the adventurous, free-spirited Katie believing in him as a baseball star-in-the-making. As a young man approaching college Billy (William McNamara) and his best friend Alan Appleby (Jonathan Silverman) were enjoying life and Billy was attracting the attention of the Philadelphia Flyers when a family tragedy strikes. Katie helps Billy and Ginny emotionally recover and pick up the pieces of their lives. 

Once home after Katie's suicide, Billy reconnects with Ginny and the grown-up Alan (Harold Ramis) and puzzles over why Katie left her ashes in his care.

Deliberately playing all notes in the minor key, Stealing Home touches upon every aspect of nostalgic Americana. Baseball, first love, loss of virginity, idyllic and isolated beachfront locations, 8mm family films, the bond between best friends, a life-altering tragedy, and the fall from grace that must precede emotional atonement: all are woven together in the story co-written and co-directed by Steven Kampmann and William Porter.

Almost overburdened by a sense of contrived machine assembly, Stealing Home just about wriggles out with enough charm. The multiple nested flashback format and soft colours work surprisingly well to create the requisite dreamy mood. Most of the key events occur in the seminal post-tragedy, pre-college summer, with Billy and his friend Alan surrounded by family, friends and sexual firsts. Alan lusts after classmate Robin Parks, but she has other plans involving Billy. Later in the summer, older woman Lesley represents Alan's every wet dream. The multiple sexual awakening side stories threaten to distract from Billy's primary arc, but also serve to enrich his character.

At the heart of the film is the relationship between Billy and Katie. She is introduced in flashback only after her suicide is announced, with Jodie Foster bringing to life a young man's fantasy cool babysitter who could become so much more. Initially the six year age difference is a hurdle, but once Billy is seventeen Katie becomes both enchanting and enticingly available. From his vantage point her spirit is enterprising, fearless, selfless and ultimately seeking more than her world can possibly offer.

Baseball as Billy's destiny and natural calling permeates his past, present and future, although the film only visits the diamond on a couple of occasions. Billy is an intrepid base runner willing to steal bases at game-defining moments, his audacity a salute to the woman who believed in him more than she ultimately believed in herself.



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