If the perfect sports movie illuminates the fundamentals that make one fall in love with the game, there may be no better movie about baseball than Carson Lund’s Eephus. Structured solely around a single round of America’s national pastime, Lund’s debut feature beautifully, humorously articulates the particular nuances, rhythms, and details of an amateur men’s league game. By subverting tropes of the standard sports movie––which often captures peak physical performance in front of legions of adoring fans––Lund has crafted something far more singularly compelling. Rather than grand slams and no-hitters, there are errors aplenty and no shortage of beer guts and weathered muscles amongst the motley crew. Lund is more interested in examining the peculiar set of social codes that only apply when one is on the field, unimpeded by life’s responsibilities and entirely focused on the rules of the game. 

Carrying an aura of bittersweetness through its tranquil frames, it’s the final match for these teams as the dilapidated stadium will begin to be demolished the very next day to make room for a new school. With a gentle yet rigorous vision, Eephus coalesces into a reflective study of nostalgia: both for a game that has evolved and for a certain kind of American social life that is dwindling as fast as the sun fades. For the men on the field, every ball, strike, or hit carries the utmost importance in this secluded haven, even if there are barely any spectators and the umpires have gone home. It’s in this particular sense of mutual passion––a slice of waning American camaraderie––that Michael Basta, Nate Fisher, and Lund’s screenplay finds its beating heart. Even for those who don’t know a thing about baseball, the connections and rivalries that play out both on the field and in the dugouts carry a sense of colloquial, small-town warmth that’s easy to connect with. For Lund, it’s less about the plays being made and more about the shit-talking, spectating, and abiding by a shared code.

While DNA from Bad News Bears and Everybody Wants Some!! certainly carries through, the charm and skill of Eephus is removing everything in the periphery and solely focusing on game at hand. In this manner, it’s a hangout movie in the truest sense––a structural gambit that pays off for forcing the viewer’s undivided attention on the game to be intrinsically linked to that of the observing players. From the opening frames, featuring morning’s dew rising across the field, to final frames of the last players exiting the field in the dark of night, Lund and cinematographer Greg Tango find an invigorating amount of perspectives across the long day of play. A dedicated, elderly scorekeeper tracks each moment on the sidelines, his work reciprocated merely by the joy it brings him and some heartfelt thanks. The players surveying from the dugout are captured with the kind of gravitas of the Magnificent Seven. Indeed, by zeroing in on this one rather barren location, Eephus carries with it the hallmarks of a great western with its clearly defined, black-and-white stakes and a sense of law upturned when the umpires desert their posts.

If I haven’t singled out anyone in the cast yet, it’s because they all meld perfectly into the milieu, none meant to lead and all diligently supporting the mission at hand. From Uncut Gems star Keith William Richards to indie standout Keith Poulson to a great third-act cameo from actual player Bill “Spaceman” Lee to even an opening voiceover from Frederick Wiseman, it’s a superbly cast picture with each member exuding a no-shits-given, New England ruggedness. Through the peppering of details––someone asking how their family is doing or what they’re doing for work in-between plays––we glean just enough backstory for each character to get invested. We care less about who wins and more about their shared goal of completing this final game.

There’s no shortage of wistful, clever observations about the game of baseball, but Eephus also weaves doubts if any of this really matters. “Why do they care so much?” says one player’s kid watching from the scorekeeper’s box, while skateboarders happen on the field and poke fun at an outfielder. Notwithstanding a scant few people and those in the actual game, no one really cares about what’s transpiring, much less the outcome. Yet the fondness in which Lund captures the proceedings exudes a sense of affection that it’s easy to see why (almost) no one on the field wants this day to end. For them, it’s a final gasp at a perfect utopia. The sentiment may never be put into word, but every jab, catch, or hit does all the talking.

The title Eephus is drawn from the strange pitch of the same name, in which the ball rides an abnormally high arc before rapidly and ideally passing through the plate as a strike. One player equates it to a summation of watching a game of baseball itself: “Looking around for something to happen. Poof, game over.” As the MLB contends with forcing games to move at a clip, Eephus‘ serene rhythms and its mourning of a fading way of life arrive at the opportune time. “There’s nothing more beautiful than a fat man stealing second base,” says one player during a humorous play. Amen.

Eephus premiered at the 2024 Cannes Film Festival.

Grade: B+

No more articles