‘Bucky F*cking Dent’ Review: David Duchovny Adds a Wistful New Chapter to the Baseball Movie Canon

Baseball breeds romantics. Whether the sport itself invokes big-sky dreaming via its laid-back nature and open-ended gameplay, or America’s pastime dons nostalgia’s rose-colored glasses simply by enduring for a century and a half, who can say? Based on more than a hundred years of baseball movies, filmmaking fans have posited their own theories, their own connections, their own interpretations of what the diamond means, often interpreting the game as an extension of life itself.

Add one more to the canon. “Bucky F*cking Dent” casts its core story — of a dying father seeking forgiveness from his estranged son — against the 1978 pennant race between the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. David Duchovny, adapting his own book of the same name and starring as the departing dad, never betrays his wistful, tender-hearted family drama by shifting focus to a game decided 45 years prior; instead, he deftly incorporates baseball’s poetic nature and passionate pull to steady his characters — to push them together, when life’s hardships try to tear them apart.

While wobbly in places and reliant on a familiar plot, “Bucky F*cking Dent” finds fresh life in its nuanced central relationship, charming period details, and a stirring performance from Duchovny — while eliciting well-earned sobs from anyone who can’t help but feel romantic about baseball.

Teddy (Logan Marshall-Green) is drifting through life. For his day job, he sells peanuts at Yankee Stadium, drawing cheers and applause for his on-target throws and spirited personality. But outside his low-pressure, go-nowhere gig, he’s alone and uninspired. Teddy tries selling his writing to publishers, but the rejection letters are piling up, and his latest meeting with an agent (played by Pamela Adlon) ends with the suggestion he needs to commit a crime. “You’re a real writer, but you’ve got nothing to write about — you write like you haven’t lived,” she says. “You’re an uninteresting white man living in uninteresting times.”

The Caucasian part he can’t change, but rather than face pain through prison time, Teddy is soon called to the hospital, where he finds out his dad, Marty, has been diagnosed with lung cancer and heart disease. He has less than a year to live, and he’s not seeking any further treatment — except for yoga sessions with a side of therapy from a nurse/”death specialist.” Mariana (Stephanie Beatriz) has been seeing Marty for a few months, helping him cope with a rapidly approaching end, but when Teddy realizes there’s no one staying with his coughing, slow-moving father, he volunteers to come over and help out.

It’s then, after spending a little time with his crotchety, joke-cracking old man that Teddy spots a connection. When Marty’s beloved Red Sox are winning, he’s in much better spirits. He’s lively and cheerful. He moves about on his own, and he’s open to new ideas. (A son giving dear ol’ dad his first hit of pot makes for great family bonding.) But when the Red Sox luck runs out — as it has for 60 years to that point in time — Marty pulls away. He sleeps more, eats less, and talks little.

His health seems tied to his team, so Teddy comes up with a plan to make sure the Sox stay hot. Each morning, he swipes the paper and either hides it under his bed or alters the headlines accordingly. He breaks the TV (provoking a humorous shout from Marty reminiscent of any dad: “It’s broken already? Goddamn TV’s only 15 years old!”) and, with the help of a few of his father’s friends, even fakes rain-outs by running water down the windows with a hose and faking thunder by waving tin baking trays.

Teddy convinces himself (and others) that lying to his father is worth it in order to keep him alive. Mariana even reluctantly agrees to keep the secret, but it’s clear to her (and the viewer) that Teddy just needs a little more time with his dad. Baseball is just the excuse that facilitates conversation, as it so often is for parents of a certain age and demeanor. One gets the sense Marty knows this even better than his son, and it’s the father’s eagerness to reconnect mixed with a reluctance to address what specifically caused their split that makes him so endearing.

“Bucky F*cking Dent” doesn’t rest its emotional climax around a single revelation; it pecks away at Marty, drawing out embarrassing tidbits here and repressed truths there until Teddy can discover the heart of his dad’s anguish. By the time they get there, it all hits home, and along the way, there’s plenty to enjoy.

Duchovny the writer-director stages a mini-“Californication” reunion, with Adlon as Teddy’s agent alongside Evan Handler (as Marty’s barber) and Jason Beghe (as a friend). The cast is strong, especially Beatriz, though Marshall-Green takes some time settling in and never quite brings enough raw earnestness to Teddy, who starts off lost and slowly finds conviction. But Marty is the heart of the film, and Duchovny’s sensitive turn — pivoting on the actor’s droll humor and coarse vulnerability — carries the movie home.

“Baseball is the only game that death is jealous of,” Marty narrates, midway through the film. “Baseball defeats time. Only baseball has the possibility of going on forever. As long as you don’t get that third out in the ninth inning, there’s a chance that you could win, a chance that you could play on, a chance that you could never die.”

All games end, as does every life, but “Bucky F*cking Dent” dials in on that faith, that hope, that chance at immortality with such intimacy, you’ll believe it all can just keep going, at least long enough to realize what matters.

Grade: B

“Bucky F*cking Dent” premiered at the 2023 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently seeking U.S. distribution.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *