If you are familiar with Bollywood movies, nothing regarding Indian culture will come as a surprise to you in Million Dollar Arm. What might come as a surprise is that J.B. Bernstein (Jon Hamm) thinks that Indians honks too much while driving and talks about it like he’s never heard it before. Has this guy never been to New York City? Disney delivers a feel-good and uplifting film that plays a little on the melodramatic side in the second half, but still succeeds in what it aims to do.
J.B. Bernstein (Hamm) is a sports agent who, along with his friend Aash (Aasif Mandvi), started his own company but has yet to sign a major player. The company is not getting any money and the two friends are running out of options. Aash is constantly going on about Cricket, a sport that’s only played in the UK and South Asia, to which J.B. gets annoyed of because he hates the sport. Desperate to keep themselves in business and to keep their investor Chang (Tzi Ma) on their side, J.B. thinks of an idea to go to India and try out Cricket players and then fly them back to the States so they can be coached by Tom House (Bill Paxton) in baseball and then enter the professional league without losing millions in signing fees. The competition comes to be called the Million Dollar Arm, which is based on the real story of this journey.
In India, he goes from city to city and auditions hundreds and hundreds of promising and hopeful boys, most of which come from poor areas. There, he acquires a baseball-obsessed, people-pleasing assistant named Amit (Pitobash) and finds his two baseball hopefuls in Rinku Singh (Suraj Sharma) and Dinesh Patel (Madhur Mittal). J.B. brings them back Stateside, only to fall back into his old lifestyle and forgets to be more accommodating to his guests. Through the help of his tenant Brenda (Lake Bell) and his new friends, J.B. starts to see the bigger picture and finds some enlightenment and a new sense of purpose in what he’s doing.
This film is full of mushy speeches, Jon Hamm’s character being an ass (this happens a lot), culture shock (on both sides of the spectrum), and an appearance by Alan Arkin’s famous sour and put-out onscreen persona. And while this film isn’t perfect, Disney always knows how to make you feel good when it comes to these kinds of films. They pull out the humor, the lesson, the cheese, the melodrama, and the cute factor and you’ve got yourself a bona fide Disney feel-good movie of the year.
Jon Hamm may be the center of this film, but his character is really the least impressive and impassioned of everyone. Alan Arkin shows up and does his thing, Lake Bell is very much a side character/love interest, and Bill Paxton is Bill Paxton. It’s really Suraj Sharma, Madhur Mittal, and Pitobash who are the highlight of the film. They come off as the most genuine without trying very hard and are very expressive with everything they do. They also bring the humor to the film and the fuzzy feel-good feelings you might have after.
Really though, the film is about perseverance, hope, and staying humble and grateful through it all. These are the things that the Indian players teach Hamm as they all try to navigate all the changes that are happening. Hamm’s character is very much the stick-up-his-butt agent who’s all about deadlines and driving around in a Porsche, not caring or thinking about anyone but himself, while he finds enlightenment and a new outlook on life through the eyes of his new found friends, who have come from nothing to a place and a sport they know very little about.
Million Dollar Arm is the kind of film which makes you feel uplifted. It’s not overly serious, a sense of humor is infused throughout the film. It does tend to get a little melodramatic in the second half (and it’s really not that unexpected given the type of film it is), and some characters get far more to do than others unfortunately, but it’ll still make you feel good and hopeful regardless, which is Disney’s strength, after all.