San Antonio Film Festival Review: The Baseball Comedy ‘Benched’

Robert Deaton and George Flanigen‘s film adaptation of Rounding Third, Richard Dresser’s play about Little League baseball coaches, gives two familiar character actors the opportunity to shine in lead roles. With Dresser on hand as screenwriter, the filmmakers have done an impressive job of opening a two-character play into a fully-fledged motion picture.

John C. McGinley as the tough Little League baseball coach Don in ‘Benched.’

John C. McGinley stars as Don, a martinet baseball coach who brings the more mellow Michael (Garret Dillahunt) on as his assistant coach to help prepare his Little League team, the Pirates, for the upcoming season. Their personalities clash immediately. Don is an intensely controlling individual who wants everyone to show up on time and to obey his every word. Michael, on the other hand, has volunteered to assist because he only wants his son, Frankie (Brennon Olson) to have some fun this summer.

As the season begins, Don is solidly in charge, but circumstances cause the power to gradually shift to Michael. Don is dismayed when his son, Jimmy (Graham Schneider), one of his star players, quits the team when he wins a part in his school’s production of Brigadoon. Then, he hits a rough spot in his relationship with his wife and ends up living in his van. Michael, whose wife had died a year before, achievea a newfound contentment coaching the kids and dating Carolyn (Jllynn Johnson), the mother of one of them.

McGinley’s trademark intensity is ideal for the character of Don, managing to maintain a kind of defiant dignity as his life crumbles around him. He is well-matched by Dillahunt’s Michael, who lets his 24-year-old boss order him around 24 hours a day, but gradually begins to recover his identity. In a poignant scene that occurs toward the end of the film, Michael anxiously watches his son attempt to catch the ball that’s been hit to his position, and (in voiceover) prays to God to let the boy catch it. It’s a beautiful piece of writing.

The boys are also well cast, and they play the game well enough to make the baseball scenes fun to watch.

Lensed in Nashville by Maz Makhani, the film has an appropriately pleasing hometown look, aided by¬†Jason Parish‘s production design. Jared Faber‘s music is also effective.

Benched opens in limited release and will be available on streaming services Aug. 17. Reviewed at the San Antonio Film Festival Aug. 4, 2018.

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