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Tuesday, June 18, 2013

'Gibsonburg': Way to Go Ohio

The small-community high-school baseball team strikes (pun intended) it big film "Gibsonburg,"  which is being released on DVD today, evokes thoughts of the "Friday Night Lights" film and television series. This is particularly true regarding the television series' history of being cancelled or facing imminent cancellation only to come back.

"Gibsonburg" also brings to mind every cliched sports movie in which an underdog high-school or college team rallies for a big win at the end.It additionally makes one think that the characters are living in a Tom Petty or John Mellencamp, Cougar or otherwise, Midwestern town.

The underlying, but true story, of "Gibsonburg" is that the high-school baseball team of small and economically struggling Gibsonburg, Ohio, wins the 2005 post-season Ohio championship high-school baseball tournament despite a regular season record of 6 wins and 17 loses. This comeback was particularly noteworthy because it is the only time that a team with a losing regular season becomes the state champions.

The perfectly decent film is notable itself in that it is an apparent labor of love by college students. The quality definitely is good enough for film festivals and art-house theaters, and the filmmakers deserve kudos both for getting it made and finding a distributor. They additionally deserve a shout out for casting actors who are, or at least look like, the high schoolers who they portray.

The secondary story revolves around dreamy all-American type team captain Andy Gruner also getting everything of which he ever dreamed. Gruner gets up at 4:30 every morning to help his parents with their struggling family bakery, then goes to school where he apparently is uber-teen, attends baseball practice, macs on the all-American girl next door, has dinner, and then presumably does his homework.

The bottom line is that "Gibsonburg" is a perfectly fine film that may become a classic for players, fans, friends, and relatives of high-school baseball. Unfortunately, it does not provide much for the rest of us.

The fact that we know at the outset that the team wins the championship reduces the suspense, and the miraculous turnarounds for the team and Gruner personally are simply too contrived to make the audience believe that they are as smooth as portrayed. "Gibsonburg" is MUCH better than "Return of the Beverly Hillbillies," which this site recently panned, but suffers from the same lack of obstacles and conflict.

It is difficult to believe that the team rallies so strongly after such a tough season, that Gruner is such an icon, that there is no jealousy or other ill will among ANY team members, and even that Gruner's father does not get at all angry when the boy seriously jeopardizes his family's best chance for long-term economic stability. Frankly, all this smacks of subtle religious propaganda despite a lack of any mention of religion.

The film further makes the error of assuming that every audience member has at least moderate knowledge of the game of baseball and how a high-school league operates. "Gibsonburg" never explains how a team with such a bad record qualifies for a post-season championship tournament. It also creates confusion regarding whether a regular season record has any significance at all.

Similarly, a few references to pitchers throwing 80s and 90s are very confusing. I know enough about baseball to understand batting averages and have a vague sense of RBIs but have never heard of these pitching statistics.

Overall, the attributes and faults of "Gibsonburg" earn it an average batting average. The aforementioned baseball fans and lovers of sports-team underdog film will love it. The rest of of us will enjoy the good storytelling and nice "Pleasantville" small-town fantasies.

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Gibsonburg" or baseball is welcome to email me. I will do my best to provide a helpful response.