Bull Durham (1988): Ron Shelton’s Oscar Nominated Sports Romantic Comedy, Starring Kevin Costner and Susan Sarandon

A witty, sharply observed tale that blends sports, comedy, and romance, “Bull Durham” was a sleeper when it came out, and it put on the map Ron Shelton, its writer and director, who followed up with other joyous sports pictures, such as “White Men Can’t Jump” in 1992.

The central romantic triangle, brought together by the great American pastime, is played by Kevin Costner, then very popular at the box-office, Susan Sarandon, exuding her usual erotic appeal, and newcomer Tim Robbins (who became Sarandon’s real-life companion after the movie).

Costner is well cast as Crash Davis, a perennial Minor Leaguer assigned to the Durham Bulls, a hapless team known for (and cursed by) its mediocrity. Among his duties is to train a young, dim-witted pitching prodigy, Nuke LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) in baseball—but also in matter of love and life.

Upon meeting Annie (Sarandon), each man falls for her, striking up a romance of sorts.  She’s the team’s “mascot,” whose self-assigned responsibility is to sleep with a new player every season.

In the course of the tale, each of the trio faces some conflicts. Crash struggles to end his career with some measure of dignity. Nuke aims to make it to the “big show.”  And good-time girl Annie thinks it’s time to find something more than quick sex.

Knowing his métier inside-out, Shelton gets right the routine chatter of the players, the folklore of the locker-room, and so on.

The film treats baseball in a satirical, even irreverent way, though when Annie says that it’s “her religion” we believe her.

The acting of the trio is superb and the chemistry between Sarandon and each man is strong—for different reasons.

Sarandon exudes plenty of charm, exposing her gorgeously shaped body, and in the process turning girdle belts into a new fashion trend.  She conveys vividly a woman who really believes that her annual ritual of choosing a rookie truly helps him become a better player in the field.

Oscar Nominations: 1

Screenplay (Original): Ron Shelton

Oscar Awards: None

 

Oscar Context:

The winners of the Original Screenplay Oscar were Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow for “Rain Man,” which also won Best Picture and Best Director for Barry Levinson.