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How to pick a rainy day movie

Watch a movie: Rainy days are for jokes you know and well-known moments you cry at anyway, lulled by the rhythm of precipitation.

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Rainy day movies shouldn't be too cerebral. You don't watch The Godfather or Memento on days like these. You peep a horror marathon on Space, a romcom, an underappreciated gutbuster---something you've seen 10 times. You want to revel in its familiarity. Rainy days are for jokes you know and well-known moments you cry at anyway, lulled by the rhythm of precipitation. They're Nightmare on Elm Street. So I Married An Axe Murderer. Miss Congeniality.

For me, it's 1992's A League of Their Own. Set in 1943, it's based on the real-life All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, created by Philip Wrigley to make money during WWII while the boys were all at war. Sisters Dottie (Geena Davis) and Kit (Lori Petty) are recruited from Nowheresville, Oregon, to play for Illinois' Rockford Peaches. On a pure sports-movie scale, it's got gobs of baseball, including the traditional climactic play---whether Dottie dropped the ball on purpose was debated my entire adolescence. Suck it family, she did! And Penny Marshall says so in her directors' commentary---and triumphant, Hans Zimmer-scored pans of packed stands symbolizing the league's success.

Its era allows for social commentary, and the movie handles those moments with a deft touch---Shirley (Ann Cusack) learns to read in the back of the bus; an African-American woman, banned from participating, hurls an errant ball from the foul line to second base; Doris quietly explains why she has no choice but to date a deadbeat (a decade before her portrayer, Rosie O'Donnell, came out publicly); Evelyn (Bitty Schram, Tom Hanks' victim in the "No crying in baseball" scene) feeds her kid chocolate to shut him up in the dugout. All the while, the script takes shots at the '40s woman, showing the players knitting, serving the umpires coffee, attending beauty classes.

There's a dance sequence, a singalong, at least three romances and Madonna's best performance (she's always been underestimated as an actor). But at its heart, framed larger by the Rockford Peaches, is the sisters' relationship, how much the lesser-talented Kit wants something that comes so easily to Dottie, a dutiful wife first. When Kit gets traded, it's inevitable her team will face the Peaches in the World Series (it's no accident she's a pitcher and Dottie's a catcher), but her final at-bat means more than the game---it's the moment she emerges from Dottie's shadow, proving that she will ascend this era to take what she wants. When Dottie drops the ball---on purpose---she not only opens one last window for her sister, she closes the door on her own talent. It's a valid choice, too.

With all this content, all this tone, all these characters, the movie shouldn't work. (Marshall's first cut was four hours long.) But that's where its re-watchability comes from---if you're in for the drama, the laughs, the feminism or the baseball, you will be accommodated, often in the same scene. It's quotable, breathtakingly composed, thrillingly edited. Where most baseball movies have you root for one side, it makes you choose (and makes that choice difficult). If you're lying on the couch, flipping around, you can passively watch A League of Their Own and be entertained. Or you can watch it actively, and be rewarded. Such is the silver lining of this rainy day movie.

Tara Thorne was inspired as a writer, filmmaker and teenaged power hitter by A League of Their Own. But she does not want to join your recreational softball league because summer is terrible.


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