How popular is cricket in America? Probably about as popular as you’d think baseball is in India. So what happened when sports agent JB Bernstein hatched the insane idea to outsource baseball pitchers to India and try training two teenage boys to throw standard baseball pitches, when all they’ve ever known and seen is cricket bowling? Well he succeeded of course, moderately as it might have been. Million Dollar Arm is the name of both the reality competition and 2014 film that documents Bernstein’s endeavor to bring baseball to India, or rather as he aptly repeatedly puts it “to gain a billion new fans for baseball”.
JB Bernstein (Jon Hamm) is a sports agent that once upon a time represented the likes of Barry Sanders and Barry Bonds. Either he had a good thing with the Barrys of the sports world, or he just hadn’t been having much luck during 2008. One night while flipping back and forth between a cricket match and one of Simon Cowell’s talent shows, Bernstein gets the wild idea to turn a cricket bowler into a baseball pitcher. With the help of an investor, he sets off for India to conduct a talent search for the best young pitching prospect he can find. While he initially finds the amount of talent underwhelming, he does finally find two boys from one of the less wealthy areas around Lucknow, India. The boys then qualify for the final round, making their way back to America to be coached by a college baseball coach, intending to tryout for a major league team after much training.
Is Million Dollar Arm, a baseball themed Slumdog Millionaire? Maybe. Is JB Bernstein just a modern day Don Draper? It’s possible. But while these similarities do exist, it doesn’t take away from the charm of the film. Jon Hamm does a great job playing a sports agent who only cares about the money, fame and supermodels. Lake Bell plays Brenda, his neighbor/tenant/love interest, who provides the good conscience that Bernstein seems to lack. Surja Sharma and Madhur Mittal, who play the young Indian pitching prospects named Rinku and Dinesh also give great performances as the teenagers who come to a foreign land, missing their families, trying their best at the same time to make them proud, all while discovering their love for pizza.
Million Dollar Arm is a great family movie, there’s no doubt about that. It’s emotional moments are carefully placed, even though they seem trite at times. The relationship and character development between Bernstein, Rinku and Dinesh is important and effective, but at times the story seems to stray from the important and focus on Bernstein’s tiny bit of narcissism. But we might be forgetting that Million Dollar Arm is a baseball story and more importantly, it’s an underdog story. It’s not always about the ending, but how important the journey was and what you learned along the way.