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So as you know, I stopped writing lengthy reviews on this site this year, keeping the blog as more of a film diary of sorts.  Lo and behold,...

Monday, July 31, 2017

Movie Review - The Phenom

The Phenom (2016)
Starring Johnny Simmons, Paul Giamatti, Sophie Kennedy Clark, Allison Elliott, and Ethan Hawke
Directed by Noah Buschel
***This film is currently streaming on Netflix***

A surprisingly serious sports film, The Phenom looks at the effect of immediate superstardom on a young baseball player thrust into the spotlight of the pro sports world.  Johnny Simmons is Hopper Gibson, a high school pitcher who decides to skip college and head straight to the pros when he's drafted by the Atlanta Braves.  Moving up the ranks rapidly, Hopper succeeds initially in his pro debut, but falls apart during a game throwing five wild pitches in one inning.  Unable to get his act together, the Braves send him to sports psychologist Dr. Mobely (Paul Giamatti) where Hopper's past rocky relationship with his mentally abusive father (Ethan Hawke) hints at the young ball player's current lack of confidence.

While The Phenom is admittedly a little slow, it gives a unique perspective for a sports film that we don't often see.  The focus isn't on the inevitable "big game" (or, frankly, any game at all), but instead on the mental highs and lows that come part and parcel with being a major league sports player.  Johnny Simmons is captivating as the title character whose cocky assurance as a high schooler (viewed in flashbacks) morphs into lots of self-doubt as he makes his way to the pros.  Considering that a huge chunk of Hopper's emotional arc occurs inside his head, Simmons succeeds at cluing the audience into exactly what his character is feeling.  Paul Giamatti is also good as the quiet, calming voice that helps Hopper try and become a bit more mentally stable in terms of his presence on the field.

Although The Phenom isn't lensed in any great fashion, writer-director Noah Buschel gives us a different spin on a tired genre.  The insular emotional nature of this piece is a difficult one to tell via a visual medium, but Buschel certainly succeeds on that front.  It's not a perfect film, but it's a good one nonetheless.

The RyMickey Rating:  B

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