If you are looking for a good movie to see with your parents or grandparents, I recommend 42. With a meaningful and educational story, it is ideal for an afternoon with the family but probably not for your next date. (And yes, I did see this with my grandparents.)
42 tells the heroic story of Jackie Robinson, the first black player in Major League Baseball. Generally unknown actor Chadwick Boseman portrays Robinson, a talented but tempered shortstop for the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro National League. Discovered by Brooklyn Dodgers’ General Manager Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford), Robinson is given the opportunity to desegregate baseball with the condition that he does not “fight back” against the imminent wave of abuse that will result from his signing.
I’ll admit—I went to the movie to see Harrison Ford. A lifelong fan and proud owner of both the Star Wars and Indiana Jones trilogies, I see it as my duty to support him in all his endeavors. As Branch Rickey, he mostly stays within the expected lines of his character, the savvy businessman with altruistic tendencies and an affinity for cigars. Though I was not blown away by his performance, his character was the most memorable. It is Rickey’s lines that drive the story forward and entertain the audience.
42 authentically captures the racial tensions of the time period and does not shy away from the language that was common at the time. But generally, when you see a movie based in the late ‘40s and ‘50s, that’s what you would expect. A bit slow at times, 42 alternates between scenes on and off the baseball field, showing Robinson’s struggle to “just play the game.” Though his teammates are more than reluctant to have him join at the beginning, most change their opinions after witnessing his talent and his struggle against prejudice. I’m not sure if this acceptance actually happened to the extent it was portrayed, but everyone loves a happy ending.
My biggest issue with the film was that though it met my expectations, it did not exceed them. Boseman plays Robinson well, but additional character development beyond his professional struggles would have added a more personal touch to the story. The film tries to depict Robinson’s relationship with his wife Rachel, but the chemistry between the characters falls flat. (Reiterating “I love you” and awkward, lengthy stares do not a love story make, writers.)
This is not to say that there were not poignant parts of the film that demonstrate the ingrained nature of racism during this time period. In one scene that particularly stuck with me, a son talks to his father with outward childish excitement to see the game. Seconds later, once Robinson steps on the field, both join the crowd in shouting racial slurs as Robinson walks over to the Dodgers. Another key moment is Robinson’s first game with other white players. The tension between Robinson and the pitcher as he continues to steal bases was palpable.
The biopic teaches audiences about Robinson’s personal struggle to break the unwritten rules of segregation in sports and highlights the people who supported him throughout his rookie year in Major League Baseball. While it does not break out of its assigned genre, it gives audiences an accurate depiction of society in the ‘40s and something to talk about on the car ride home.