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“Screwball” Puts A Spin On The Sports Documentary

Baseball probably had the most complicated performance enhancing drug scandal of any professional sport. Especially as Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa assault the single season home run record, Major League Baseball saw attendance, fandom, and finance all enhanced by drug enhanced home runs. Later on, things came to a head with Alex Rodriguez and his positive test for steroids. Within that scandal, and the whole human growth hormone scandal, are a number of unique characters. A few form the basis for the documentary Screwball, which finds a unique spin on what otherwise could have been a special on ESPN. This take helps set the doc apart and give it a fun bit of variety.

The film is a very untraditional non fiction story. Truly a documentary, it also functions like a true crime dramedy, in that all of the non talking head or archival footage is dramatic recreations where the real people are played by children. It’s a gimmick, but it works to help make you smile while you’re shaking your head at the story. The story is remarkable too, as it brings us to the Miami underworld of steroids, fake doctors, and forgery that provided performance-enhancing drugs to Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, and a whole host of other athletes. Specifically, it’s the story of Anthony Bosch and his South Florida “health clinic” that acted as a front for human growth hormone. Bosch peddled the illegal drugs to the top performers in the sport, living high on the hog, especially once A-Rod recruited his help. His downfall, along with Rodriguez, is well documented, but watching it unfold in this style is strangely compelling. Billy Corben directs, while B.J. Golnick handled the cinematography and the score comes from 10k Islands. The way Corben makes this as much a crime story as a sports story, centered around Bosch, and how enjoyable it all is, really does set it apart from a television special that it otherwise could have been.

Screwball is a surprisingly fun doc. The movie doesn’t require you to be a sports fan, though a cursory knowledge of baseball and the scandal itself doesn’t hurt any. Corben gives you all the information you need. Mostly, this is a look at a side of the scandal that never quite got covered. Moreover, in taking this slightly lighthearted tone, it functions as more digestible material than it otherwise might have been. At the same time, it does limit the power of the material, but that’s something the filmmaker had to know going in. You’re setting yourself up for success, just a small scale one.

This sort of gimmick could backfire for the wrong type of documentary. To be fair, the novelty of it wears off before too long, though the intrigue of the actual scandal is more than enough to suffice. Bosch would be as at home in a Martin Scorsese helmed mob epic like Goodfellas as he is in a somber non fiction tale. Having him telling his side of the story, even when we know he’s definitely pitching a specific narrative, gives this a unique shade. Arguably, Corben didn’t even need to rely on the kids gimmick as much as he did. Having this subject matter was already a great starting point.

Now in theaters, Screwball is a documentary that seeks to entertain as much as it hopes to inform. Baseball fans will find this film a fun look at a period of time they remember all too well, while newcomers will just be subjected to an enjoyable little doc. The baseball season is underway and home runs are already been smashed aplenty, so that should function as a reminder of this scandal. Harken back to that cloud Major League Baseball found themselves under and give this one a chance. More than likely, you’ll find it to be a good time at the movies.

Be sure to check out Screwball, in theaters now!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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