Sleeper of the Week: "Game 6"

For a Red Sox post-season, a movie about the worst Red Sox game ever

Sleeper of the Week: "Game 6"

The Nut Graf: With a script by Don DeLillo, and Michael Keaton in the lead, “Game 6” (2006, *** stars out of ****) knows the eternal existential angst of the Red Sox fan.

Michael Keaton in “Game 6”

Old habits die hard; old curses die harder. I got home from a screening Monday night and flipped on the TV just in time to see the Houston Astros hit a three-run homer against the Boston Red Sox. Did I actually cause that to happen? Of course I did; every long-suffering sports fan knows that they are personally responsible for their team’s bad luck. It’s the solipsism of the jinx, and, as if to prove me right, the Sox didn’t score again until I was out walking the dog a few innings later. (They ended up winning 12-3, but we all know that doesn’t count.)

To be a Sox fan, especially a fan of a certain age, is to know this far too well – to understand that catastrophe can and will be snatched from the jaws of victory and that it’s your fault for caring too much. If you were alive and sentient and from New England on October 25th, 1986, you know exactly where you were when the ball went through Bill Buckner’s legs in the sixth game of the World Series against the New York Mets. So do I, and so does Don DeLillo, the storied novelist (“White Noise,” “Libra”) whose sole screenwriting credit is “Game 6” (2006), a movie about the hubris of loving a sports team and expecting it to love you back.

Available for streaming on Showtime and DirecTV and for rent on Amazon, Apple TV, Google Play, and YouTube, it’s an unlikely film in more ways than one. (The soundtrack is by Yo La Tengo, the long-lived indie rock group whose name derives from the cry of the Spanish outfielder.) “Game 6” is a New York story about a Boston fan, so already the movie and its hero have chips on their shoulders. A bristling Michael Keaton stars as Nicky Rogan, a Manhattan playwright whose new drama is opening on Broadway the same night that Game 6 plays out at Shea Stadium. Nicky has a wife (Catherine O’Hara) who’s had it, a mistress (Bebe Neuwirth) who’s his producer, a daughter (Ari Graynor) who can’t be bothered, and a lead actor (Harris Yulin) who has contracted a tropical brain parasite and can’t remember his lines. Oh, and there’s a bad-boy theater critic (Robert Downey, Jr.) who Nicky is convinced is out to get him, to the point where both men are packing pistols.

Ari Graynor, Michael Keaton, and Robert Downey, Jr. in “Game 6”

Much of “Game 6” takes place in taxicabs snarled in midtown traffic while steam pipes explode and the sky rains asbestos flakes. Wearing a devilish little goatee, Keaton plays the hero as a charming egotist asking for comeuppance, the self-anointed star of his own life and of a New York City that no longer exists. (The camera pointedly focuses on the unpronounceable taxi license names of immigrant cab drivers who were neurosurgeons in their home countries.)

Nicky’s one flaw is that he’s a Red Sox fan, which he wears as a badge of honor, and which means he believes in hope. He won’t say that, of course – he waxes poetic about how the Sox have lost and will continue to lose spectacularly, at the last second, and in ways you didn’t think existed. But because he was a child once and in some ways still is, he has faith. “Game 6” came out just after the team had ended its 86-year drought and won the 2004 World Series but it was written and filmed just before, when it seemed The Curse (of the Bambino, or of Yahweh, or of you) would never lift. That somehow we deserved it, for something we’d done that no one would tell us about. The Curse was a lesson in the meaningless of life from the world’s only existential baseball team, and while I’m delighted that the Red Sox went on to triumph in 2007, 2013, and 2018, and as of this writing may do so again this year (I can say it now that the jinx is gone) (I think), I sometimes miss the pain the way you feel a phantom limb.

“Dear God, not Bob Stanley”

On the night of October 25, 1986, I was a Red Sox fan in a New York apartment full of Mets fans who, as the home team’s chances dwindled down to one out and then one strike, started grudgingly congratulating the guy from Boston. I continued to insist that the Sox could still lose – mightily, profoundly – and when the unthinkable happened and manager John McNamara (we named a town after him: Marblehead) subbed in relief pitchers Cal Schiraldi and finally Bob Stanley, who gave up the tying run, and then Mookie Wilson tapped a little grounder down the first base line toward Buckner who bent down and missed it, everybody in the room backed away from me as if I were the Oracle at Delphi. Keaton’s Nicky Rogan is in a similar place, in a crowded Upper East Side bar full of dejected Mets fans bracing for the worst, and just as I and millions of Boston faithful did, he loudly proclaims that it ain’t over until it’s over while in the innermost chamber of his heart he finally allows himself to believe that his time, the Sox’s time, our time, has come. And for that he is punished.

“Game 6” isn’t a great movie, but it knows things. The dialogue is as overwritten as you’d expect from a gifted novelist trying his hand at a new medium, and director Michael Hoffman leans awfully heavily on the film’s themes. The performances range from the extremely enjoyable (Keaton) to the antic (Griffin Dunne as a fellow playwright) to the humiliating (Neuwirth). But it ends where it should, with a handful of beaten souls watching an instant replay again and again, as if they were reciting a catechism. The ball goes through the baseman’s legs. It always will.

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