Genre: Family, Comedy
Director: David M. Evans
Stars: Tom Guiry, Mike Vitar, Patrick Renna
A new kid in town is taken under the wing of a young baseball prodigy and his team. Together, they get themselves into many adventures involving rival teams, lifeguards, and a vicious dog.
We don’t really get “nostalgia movies” like we used to, which I find interesting when we have sites like Buzzfeed which worship nostalgia. There is even a term these days, “nostalgiatard,” denoting someone mentally recapturing a bygone era. I watched The Sandlot again recently which got me wondering about “whatever happened to this kind of nostalgia film?”
The Nostalgia Movie
When I use the word “nostalgia” I don’t mean a period piece. The Sandlot is set during 1962 and it’s about being a kid in 1962, as opposed to other movies set in the early 60s and deal with major events from that time period. A primary device used in this type of nostalgia movie is the “friendly narrator.” In this case that narrator is the film’s writer/director David Evans. The movie, and others like it, start with kids at play as a timely pop music song plays and a friendly voice starts in with a smile to tell us strangers anecdotes from their childhood. I didn’t grow up in 1962 so I’ve little choice but to accept Mr. Evans’ description that this is what it was like.
Upon the initial release of The Sandlot it received many mixed reviews with called it shamelessly derivative and overly nostalgic while still praising its genuine good nature and simplicity. “Derivative” may seem like a fitting word to describe The Sandlot as it is exactly like so many other nostalgia movies. With its narration and pacing it feels very much like A Christmas Story and Stand By Me, both films which presented being part of a time in addition to a story. I’ve no complaint and have always found this narrative anecdote approach to nostalgia films to be educational. I was not a part of that time or place so something like The Sandlot shows me what it was like.
Coming of Age
The Sandlot is a coming-of-age film, a description of any movie I’ve come to loathe. “Coming-of-Age” films focus on the psychological and moral growth of a preteen/teenage protagonist transitioning from youth to adulthood. The characters in The Sandlot are all about 12 years old and the film is about this wonderful summer they spent together in 1962 which shaped their lives and there never was any other summer like it. Ostensibly, this is just 12-year-old kids spending their time playing baseball but, only after-the-fact and through the narration, do we see that these kids are actually learning important lessons and making the social connections that will carry them into adulthood.
Writing about the movie in 1993, Roger Ebert said, “There was a moment in the film when Rodriguez hit a line drive directly at the pitcher’s mound, and I ducked and held up my mitt, and it was then I realized I didn’t have a mitt, and it was then I also realized how completely this movie had seduced me with its memories of what really matters when you are 12.” Ebert is right about how well The Sandlot captures being 12. I was only 13 when this movie came out and found it incredibly relateable when I watched it at that time. Which is why I eschew the phrase “coming of age film” and opt instead to call The Sandlot simply a movie about being 12. I’m not a big baseball fan and I was born almost two decades after this film takes place – but I was 12 years old once and this movie still speaks to those memories.
We’re Talkin’ Baseball
I’m not big on baseball, or any sport for that matter. While The Sandlot is about a group of bots who spend their summer playing baseball I don’t feel alienated from the movie as much as I do with any other film covering the sport. The Sandlot doesn’t go into a a lot of detail with the sport or its competitiveness – we only get scenes of kids playing baseball on a sandlot and I don’t think we ever know the score for a single game they’re playing. The movie also keeps its baseball references as broad as possible, keeping its name-dropping to players like Babe Ruth, a player so legendary that pretty much everyone knows the name.
The Sandlot it would seem is not actually about baseball – its how these boys pass the time and interact with each other. The movie is about the way these boys far more than being a look at the sport they play. The Sandlot is about being 12 years old, it’s about 1962; baseball just happens to be something kids did then and there. If The Sandlot took place with teenagers living in 2015 – they would most likely bond over video games instead of baseball.
So What About Nostalgia?
The term”nostalgia” specifically denotes a sentimentality for the past associating a time or place with personal feelings. Films like The Sandlot or A Christmas Story are nostalgic as they express a sentimental longing for a specific time and place. The Sandlot really is the last of its kind of nostalgia film, where the smiling narrator waxes nostalgic. Film styles and storytelling methods always change and perhaps that’s a reason The Sandlot felt derivative in 1993 – because of natural changes in filmmaking.
We still have nostalgia movies – they’re just different. Movies like Dazed and Confused or High Fidelity or The Wedding Singer all express sentiment for a past time but each with a unique style that’s not dependent on a “smiling narrator.” Additionally, the filmmakers of today’s nostalgia movies and especially nostalgic coming-of-age movies, are of a different generation. People born after 1980 have a childhood experience much more media-centric than someone twenty years their senior. For someone who was 12 in 1992, their nostalgia and their coming-of-age anecdotes would most likely focus around video games or television. It’s why modern nostalgia films are more about dropping the titles of pop songs, tv shows and movies – because media played a much greater role in their upbringing. This is why “nostalgiatard” sites like Buzzfeed have so many lists about Saved By the Bell or an 90s television show – because for someone who was 12 then those were the things that were important to them. Of all the nostalgia posts circulating on social media today, how many are media related and how few are sports related?
A movie like The Sandlot could not happen today. Certainly its themes of being 12 years old will always be relevant because there will always be adolescents, but a modern teenager would find very little in common with the story of someone who was 12 in 1962. Yes there is the common ground of adolescent experience, which is why myself and others that were teenagers in 1993 embraced the film. However the craft of storytelling has changed too much for today’s generation to connect with the look and feel of this movie. I’ll put it this way: I watched The Sandlot the other night on television, on the Discovery Kids (formerly The Hub) Network. Yes it is a kid’s station but the movie aired at midnight. There is no kid watching television at midnight on a Thursday – just adults. The commercial breaks interrupting the film were not for towys or the latest kid products – they were for life insurance and dietary supplements. Discovery Kids was fully aware that The Sandlot is a movie for nostalgic adults. It was a kids’ movie 20 years ago that matured with its audience.