Red Sox fans remember Oct. 25, 1986, of course. It’s the day their beloved Boston snatched defeat from the jaws of victory as first baseman Bill Buckner let a ball go through his legs, costing them the game and, ultimately, the World Series. It would have been their first championship in 70 years.
Sox devotees may have mixed emotions about “Game 6,” a dramatic comedy set on that fateful day. It may dredge up old pains that have since healed, aided by time and by Boston’s 2004 World Series victory. But the film also serves up a philosophy that hardcore baseball fans would do well to observe: Some things are just out of your control.
Written by the postmodern novelist Don DeLillo, “Game 6” narrows its focus to one man, a playwright named Nicky Rogan (Michael Keaton), who, despite living in New York, is a lifelong Red Sox fan. His career has been financially successful but artistically shallow, with the title and catchphrase of his last big hit — “Yessiree, Bob!” — now uttered every time a fan meets him on the street.
His personal life is a shambles, as is often the case with successful characters in movies. His wife (Catherine O’Hara) is divorcing him, and their teenage daughter, Laurel (Ari Graynor), has taken Mom’s side. His new play is opening tonight, the leading man (Harris Yulin) has a brain tumor that prevents him from remembering his lines, and New York’s harshest, most feared theater critic Steven Schwimmer (Robert Downey Jr.) — a man so despised that he lives in hiding and attends plays in disguise — is going to review it.
Nicky usually claims to be above fretting over such things, but this particular play of his is personal and serious, the sort of thing he actually cares about. He can’t bear to watch his magnum opus fail at its premiere, so he goes someplace where there’s a chance of success: a tavern, to watch the game.
The Sox are up 3-2 in the series, and a win tonight is possible, even likely. A tie sends them into extra innings, but Nicky is confident a victory is in the offing. He’s certain of it. Nothing can go wrong. He has allowed himself to do one thing a Red Sox fan should know better than to do: hope.
We know, like witnesses to an accident that we’re unable to prevent, that something WILL go wrong, and that Nicky’s faith will be shattered. A cab driver who serves as a Greek chorus to Nicky’s indecisive musings observes, “You want to lose…. You’re afraid to believe in something.” She means the Red Sox, but she means his career and his personal life, too.
Hit-or-miss director Michael Hoffman (“Soapdish,” “The Emperor’s Club”) has his hands full with DeLillo’s fanciful, semi-absurdist dialogue and plot developments — including an asbestos leak in midtown Manhattan and a traffic reporter on the radio who waxes philosophical rather than report the traffic — but he keeps the film down to earth with his star, Michael Keaton. Keaton can deliver DeLillo’s dense sentences so they sound believable and writerly (which, after all, Keaton’s character is supposed to be).
Several actors only get one scene apiece but make lasting impressions with them, including Bebe Neuwirth as Nicky’s mistress, Catherine O’Hara as his wife, and Griffin Dunne as a burned-out fellow playwright. I’d be happy to watch a movie with any one of them as the main character.
In a film where everyone’s a philosopher, it’s possible to become too heavy and pretentious, but “Game 6” is neither. It’s ultimately a very nice and simple film, with clear messages and sparklingly witty dialogue, smart enough to be worth contemplating but not so brainy it becomes a chore to watch.
B (1 hr., 27 min.; )