×

SXSW Film Review: ‘All Square’

Director John Hyams and screenwriter Timothy Brady score with a profanely funny dramedy about making book on Little League games.

Director:
John Hyams
With:
Michael Kelly, Jesse Ray Sheps, Josh Lucas, Pamela Adlon, Tom Everett Scott, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Harris Yulin, Yeardley Smith, Jay Larson, Craig Walker.

1 hour 33 minutes

And now for something completely different: Director John Hyams, heretofore best known for his genre-centric output in film (“Universal Soldier: Day of Reckoning”) and television (“Z Nation,” “The Originals”) successfully tries his hand at playing for laughs with “All Square,” a casually profane and frequently uproarious working-class dramedy about a small-time bookie who turns a big profit — for a while — by taking bets on Little League games. Winner of the Narrative Spotlight audience award at the SXSW Film Festival, this scrappy indie could conceivably generate enough favorable word of mouth to gain acceptance as a bonding experience for indulgent fathers and their adolescent sons. Keep in mind, though, that moms — and less permissive dads — might not be equally amused.

Michael Kelly hits all the right notes in the lead role of John, a morally challenged ne’er-do-well who wields pugnacious sarcasm and vinegary cynicism as both offensive and defensive weapons. Years ago, he loomed large in his Baltimore suburb as a Little League champ clearly destined for a MLB roster. But he cut short his minor league career and returned home after his disreputable father (Harris Yulin, the movie’s most valuable supporting player) was arrested for vehicular homicide; after his conviction, John took over his dad’s sports book.

Ever since, John’s been barely scraping by, depending on a steadily decreasing clientele (he’s losing bettors to the Internet all the time) while occasionally earning an honest buck hanging sheetrock. He’s also given to earning dishonest bucks, or at least pilfering things that can be sold or hoarded, by burglarizing the homes of gamblers who can’t cover their losses. Judging from what we see early on, John has had to develop versatile skills for breaking and entering.

John serves as blunt-spoken narrator for “All Square,” and he wins grudging respect for never trying to justify his self-serving behavior. The morning after a one-night stand at the home of a former high school classmate (Pamela Adlon), he finds himself alone with Brian (Jesse Ray Sheps), the woman’s 12-year-old son. Eager to remove himself from an awkward situation, he agrees to drive Brian to his Little League game. Later, after noting the boy’s grievous inability to pitch, he offers to give him a few pointers. But, of course, he has ulterior motives for his seeming beneficence: John will use any excuse to hang out at games and develop a brand new, more financially solvent clientele — parents who are willing to bet heavily on their kids’ games.

There is more than a hint of “The Bad News Bears” to Timothy Brady’s shaggy-dog screenplay during scenes in which John contributes generously to Brian’s delinquency: He offers the boy a beer (or two) before games, coaches him on the finer points of fighting dirty while facing bullies, and advises him to get in touch with his inner hoodlum because he’s a minor and nothing will go on his permanent record. (Compared to this brazenly unsavory character, Walter Matthau’s boozy Bears coach was a benign role model.) Sheps makes a good foil for Kelly, subtly suggesting Brian’s aching vulnerability, and his desperate need for a father figure, even while the boy thoroughly enjoys the benefits of John’s bad influence.

But the movie goes several paces beyond “Bears” and follows its own course as it observes — from John’s p.o.v. — the outrageous excess of ostensibly loving parents who turn into screaming and sometimes brawling monsters while observing children at their games. (If you have ever had a child in Little League, you may laugh, but not smile, when the shouting matches begin.) The fact that many of those parents are betting heavily on said games only serves to fuel their monstrousness.

Away from the baseball diamond, “All Square” effectively pivots to moments of surprisingly affecting drama, especially when John’s dad reveals the reason for his years-ago crime — in a scene that Yulin knocks right out the park — and John in turn reveals that he hasn’t been entirely honest with us, or himself.

A brief eruption of violence in the third act is deliberately unsettling, arguably too much so. But Hyams and Brady prove to be quite deft, and credible, at pulling back just before fulfilling worst expectations. At the same time, however, they deserve credit for not trying to neatly tie up their dangling plot threads with a happily-ever-after bow, and for not being too hard on some secondary characters, such as a politically ambitious hypocrite played by Josh Lucas, who likely would fare much worse in a more conventional movie.

SXSW Film Review: 'All Square'

Reviewed at SXSW Film Festival (Narrative Spotlight), March 10, 2018. Running time: 99 MIN.

Production: A Paperclip Limited production in association with Mill House Motion Pictures. (International sales: CAA, Los Angeles.) Producers: Jordan Foley, Jonathan Rosenthal, Michael Kelly, Yeardley Smith, Ben Cornwell. Executive producers: Timothy Brady, Brian Liebman.

Crew: Director: John Hyams. Screenplay: Timothy Brady. Camera (color): Yaron Levy. Editor: Hyams, Neil Fazzari. Music: Max Knouse, Michael Krasner, Robin Vining, Steve Dueck.

With: Michael Kelly, Jesse Ray Sheps, Josh Lucas, Pamela Adlon, Tom Everett Scott, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Harris Yulin, Yeardley Smith, Jay Larson, Craig Walker.

More Film

  • LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With

    LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With Documentary About Gay Porn Shops Circus of Books

    Granted, the red carpet at the opening night of Outfest in DTLA may not have been the most star-studded but it was without a doubt the most diverse, inclusive and, yes, fabulous. “I’ve never been here before,” admitted “RuPaul’s Drag Race” vet Trixie Mattel, who stars in the documentary “Moving Parts.” “It’s supposed to be [...]

  • Editorial use only. No book cover

    Russ Tamblyn's Career Had Legs After Childhood

    With an acting career that spans work for Cecil B. DeMille and Joseph Losey to Quentin Tarantino and David Lynch, Russ Tamblyn’s creativity and longevity is proof that there’s life after child stardom. In Tamblyn’s case, there’s also been a bounty of juicy film and TV roles long after his legendary legs no longer kicked [...]

  • Olivia Wilde Booksmart Director

    Film News Roundup: Olivia Wilde to Direct Holiday Comedy for Universal

    In today’s film news roundup, Olivia Wilde has landed another directing gig following “Booksmart” and revenge thriller “Seaside” and “Woodstock: The Directors Cut” get August release dates. PROJECT LAUNCH Olivia Wilde will direct and produce an untitled holiday comedy project for Universal Pictures with her “Booksmart” partner Katie Silberman. Universal outbid five other studios for [...]

  • Choas Charles Mansion and the CIA

    Amazon Studios Takes Film Rights to Manson-Centered Drama 'Chaos' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Just in time for the 50th anniversary of the grisly murders executed by the followers of Charles Manson, Amazon Studios has optioned film rights to a nonfiction title about a journalist who spent decades obsessively following the case. The studio will adapt “Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties,” from [...]

  • Sword of Trust

    Marc Maron on 'Sword of Trust,' Lynn Shelton and Conspiracy Theories

    Marc Maron has interviewed everyone from Bruce Springsteen to President Obama, so he’s probably learned a few things about being a good interview. Of course, as he points out, he generally has over an hour to talk leisurely speak with his guests in his home and draw out stories beyond the public narrative; it’s a [...]

  • Andrew Lincoln as Rick Grimes - The

    Andrew Lincoln's ‘Walking Dead’ Movies to Be Released Only in Theaters

    The first planned movie centered on “The Walking Dead” character Rick Grimes will now run in theaters rather than on AMC. The announcement was made with a brief teaser video played at San Diego Comic-Con on Friday, with the video ending with the words “Only in Theaters.” The film will be distributed by Universal Pictures. [...]

  • Jennifer Beals The Last Tycoon

    Jennifer Beals Seeking SAG-AFTRA Board Seat as Matthew Modine Ally (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jennifer Beals is running for a SAG-AFTRA national board seat as a member of presidential candidate Matthew Modine’s progressive Membership First slate. Beals is best known for starring as Bette Porter on the Showtime series “The L Word” and for her lead role as Alex Owens in the 1983 hit “Flashdance.” She’s starred in the [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content