Baseball breeds romantics. Whether the sport itself evokes the dream of the sky through its relaxed nature and open-ended gameplay, or the American pastime puts on the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia by simply holding on for a century and a half, who’s to say? Drawing on more than a hundred years of baseball movies, movie fans have posed their own theories, their connections, their own interpretations of the meaning of the diamond, often interpreting the game as an extension of life itself.
Add another one to the canon. “Bucky F*cking Dent” pitches its core story—of a dying father seeking forgiveness from his estranged son—against the 1978 pennant race between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox. David Duchovny, adapting his book of the same name and playing the departing father, never betrays his melancholy and tender family drama by shifting the focus to a game decided 45 years earlier; instead, he deftly incorporates the poetic nature and passionate pull of baseball to stabilize his characters, to bring them together, when life’s hardships try to tear them apart.
Though shaky in places and reliant on a familiar storyline, ‘Bucky F*cking Dent’ finds new life in its nuanced central relationship, charming period details and a stirring performance by Duchovny – while eliciting well-deserved sobs from anyone who can’t help but feeling romantic about baseball.
Teddy (Logan Marshall-Green) is going through life. For his day job, he sells peanuts at Yankee Stadium, drawing cheers and cheers for his focused shots and lively personality of his. But outside of his low-pressure gig and nowhere, he’s lonely and uninspired. Teddy tries to sell his writings to publishers, but rejection letters are piling up and his latest encounter with an agent (played by Pamela Adlon) ends with the suggestion that he needs to commit a crime. “You’re a real writer, but you have nothing to write about—you write as if you haven’t lived,” she says. “You are an uninteresting white man living in uninteresting times.”
The Caucasian side can’t change, but rather than deal with the pain of being in prison, Teddy is soon called to the hospital, where he learns that his father, Marty, has been diagnosed with lung cancer and heart disease. He has less than a year to live and is not seeking any further treatment except yoga sessions with a side of therapy from a nurse/”death specialist”. Mariana (Stephanie Beatriz) has been seeing Marty for a few months, helping him cope with a fast approaching end, but when Teddy realizes there is no one with his coughing, slow moving father, he volunteers to come. to help him.
It’s then, after spending some time with his cantankerous and playful old man, that Teddy sees a connection. When Marty’s beloved Red Sox win, he’s in a great mood. He is lively and cheerful. He moves on his own and is open to new ideas. (A son who gives dear ol’ Dad his first hit of weed forms a great family bond.) But when the Red Sox’ luck runs out—as it has for 60 years up to that point—Marty walks away. He sleeps more, eats less and speaks little.
His health seems tied to his team, so Teddy hatches a plan to make sure the Sox stay warm. Every morning, he scrolls through the paper and hides it under the bed or changes the titles accordingly. He breaks the TV (prompting a humorous cry from Marty that reminds any dad: “Is it broken yet? Damn TV’s only 15!”) and, with the help of some of his father’s friends, even pretends it’s raining by running to water the windows with a pipe and feigning thunder by waving tin pans.
Teddy convinces himself (and others) that his father is worth lying to to keep him alive. Mariana even reluctantly agrees to keep the secret, but it’s clear to her (and the viewer) that Teddy just needs a little more time with his father. Baseball is just the excuse that facilitates the conversation, as is often the case for parents of a certain age and behavior. One gets the sense that Marty knows this even better than his son does, and it’s the father’s eagerness to reconnect mixed with a reluctance to address what specifically caused their separation that makes it so endearing.
“Bucky F*cking Dent” doesn’t place its emotional climax around a single revelation; pecks at Marty, pulling out embarrassing tidbits here and repressed truths there until Teddy can uncover the heart of his father’s anguish. When they get there, it all hits home, and along the way, there’s plenty to enjoy.
Writer-director Duchovny stages a “Californication” mini-reunion, with Adlon as Teddy’s agent alongside Evan Handler (as Marty’s barber) and Jason Beghe (as friend). The cast is strong, especially Beatriz, although Marshall-Green takes some time to settle in and never brings enough raw earnestness to Teddy, who starts off lost and slowly finds conviction. But Marty is the film’s heart, and Duchovny’s sensitive turn – hinging on the actor’s goofy humor and crass vulnerability – drives the film home.
“Baseball is the only game that death is jealous of,” Marty says, halfway through the film. “Baseball beats the weather. Only baseball has a chance to last forever. Until you get that third out in the ninth inning, there’s a chance you’ll win, a chance you’ll keep playing, a chance you’ll never die.
All games end, and so does every life, but “Bucky F*cking Dent” fits into that faith, that hope, that chance at immortality with such intimacy, you’ll believe anything can go on, at least long enough to figure out what count.
“Bucky F*cking Dent” premiered at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently seeking distribution in the United States.