Back in 1992, I wrote a column titled Dream Factory for the UCLA Daily Bruin. The weekly articles offered up my takes on cinema, most of which were centered on my fixation with classic films from yesteryear. Almost everything changes with time and weather, but movies have always been my bedfellow (for better and worse). I’m resurrecting Dream Factory from the Bruin ashes (good luck trying to find my column online – it’s lost in microfiche land) for Find Your Seen, and hopefully you’ll join me on this haphazard yet well intentioned journey.
Movies, whether I liked it or not, have played a huge part in my emotional growth and connection to the world. My mother reared me on movies as a baby, and one of my early childhood memories was learning that Charlie Chaplin had died in his sleep. John Ferguson’s (James Stewart) obsessive desire to makeover his new girlfriend (Kim Novak) into the spitting image of a dead lover absolutely shook me to the core at age 14, and during the same year of catching Vertigo I also checked out Manhattan. James Stewart fixating over a seemingly dead woman and a middle-aged Woody Allen dating a teenager (Mariel Hemingway) were my cinematic entryway into male/female relationships. Not exactly a healthy way to proceed, but I continue to load up on the carbs.
Though I obviously knew film and life were not one and the same, that didn’t stop me from fusing those dance partners together. Instead of life imitating art or vice versa, why couldn’t we simply say “Life is art, and art is life?” That was my reasoning back then, and a huge part of that concept still rings true for me today, even if, to many, I’ve paid a huge price for that conceit. But I’ll save that for another post.
Starring Jodie Foster and Mark Harmon, Stealing Home was released in 1988, and my first viewing came as a sophomore in college. It was 1990, I was living on Gayley Avenue apartment in Westwood, Ca. with a small, high-rise balcony overlooking the city. In hindsight, I should have spent those days dating as much as possible and soaking up college life to the fullest. Instead, I was fixated over two Mark Harmon movies that I’d always catch on cable – Worth Winning (which had a scene, if I recall, where either Harmon or Madeleine Stowe make pasta carbonara – very informative!) and Stealing Home. Making good choices has never been my strong suit.
I was immediately hooked by Stealing Home’s overarching sentimentality and what some would deem as cornball storytelling. Roger Ebert gave the film one star and trashed the movie , and though he did bring up salient points in his review, to love Stealing Home is to simply ride that wave of wistful nostalgia sans a critical eye. For example, if you love David Foster’s Stealing Home score, you’ll probably dig the movie as well. If you think the music is pure cheesiness, then you’ll probably take a different stance:
Billy Wyatt (Harmon) is a washed up minor-league baseball player who returns home after Katie Chandler (Jodie Foster), his childhood friend and babysitter, commits suicide. Katie’s final wish was to have Billy figure out whether to scatter or keep her ashes. William McNamara plays Billy during his teen years with Jonathan Silverman/Harold Ramis starring as the younger/grown-up version of Billy’s best friend Alan.
The seamless juxtaposition between the two timelines is an underrated strength behind Stealing Home. In just 98 minutes, we witness how Katie, Alan, and Billy’s parents (John Shea and Blair Brown, both terrific) have all positively impacted our protagonist’s life. When an unexpected tragedy alters Billy’s life, he unwittingly begins a downward spiral, leading to a gradual alienation from his loved ones.
The chemistry among all the actors are also evident, and even though they shared just a couple of scenes, Harmon and Ramis are believable as the now reunited best friends. Stealing Home may never be considered a lesson in visual filmmaking like Vertigo or, say, Goodfellas, but there’s a diner scene between the two actors that’s beautifully composed and shot by the filmmakers.
While there is a ton of love to be had in Stealing Home, the heart of the story centers on Billy and Katie’s bond. Foster does a great job of playing the carefree yet wise beyond her years character, and though it’s a supporting role, her presence is felt throughout the film.
As a youth I fixated on Billy’s love for Katie and, how through tragedy, he finally was on the road to becoming a man who didn’t shy from responsibility. Re-watching Stealing Home, now in the throes of middle-age, I see Billy Wyatt as a quitter who’s rarely had any follow through with his aspirations and relationships. Unfortunately, I can relate to Billy’s lifelong predicament.
To me, Stealing Home isn’t just a coming-of-age drama. A part of Billy will always, as F. Scott Fitzgerald penned in ‘The Great Gatsby,’ be “borne back ceaselessly into the past.” A lesser film would have had Billy’s renewed passion for baseball lead him to a shot at the major leagues or worse yet, prompt him to deliver a sweeping speech about Katie that would bring the house down.
Instead, Stealing Home’s true beauty lies in playing life’s notes in half measures. Billy’s biggest task is to honor his late friend in the best way possible, and he finds the answer by remembering all those yesterdays. It’s not a heroic quest to win the World Series or even “get the girl,” but it’s sublime nonetheless.
There may be nine innings in a baseball game, but reality often takes us into extra innings. Billy Wyatt certainly knows that truth, and hopefully I’m just a few steps behind.
***I’ll be discussing my own personal journey with my favorite films through Dream Factory in the coming weeks, and I really have no idea where this journey will take me. But I hope, somewhere down the road, we can share a movie or two! Feel free to comment below and share some of your favorite films – I’m always looking for recommendations!
***I also discuss my love for Stealing Home on this week’s episode of CinemAddicts, a movie review podcast I do with Anderson Cowan. To listen to the episode, which also includes reviews of Christine and The Handmaiden, please click on the media bar below:
Stealing Home is now available as a Manufactured on Demand Title from Warner Archive.