The film, “The Phenom” was recently screened as part of the NY Film Critics National Series (NYFCS) across the US. The pre-show, and wrap around elements were hosted by NY Film Critic and NYFCS co-host Alison Bailes.
“The Phenom” is set in the world of baseball but it’s really more about the psychology of a young player struggling to find his game. The Phenom of the title is played by Johnny Simmons and he’s joined onscreen by the wonderful character actors Ethan Hawke and Paul Giamatti.
Over the years we have seen great baseball movies like Eight Men Out, The Natural and Field of Dreams. The Phenom is not your typical sports movie; Director Noah Buschel brings depth and complexity to this gripping psychological portrait of an athlete at a crossroads in the big-league sports grind.
“The Phenom” is the sixth movie by film festival regular Noah Buschel who made a splash with his 2007 film “Neal Cassady” about Jack Kerouac’s friend and muse. His last film “glass chin” was set in the world of boxing…even though it didn’t have much actual fighting in it. Buschel has said that boxing as a subject provides “a beautiful blank canvas to project on” and of course the same can be said about America’s national pastime baseball. Buschel, who grew up in Manhattan was ordained as a Zen priest in 2002 so it’s not surprising that he’s drawn to the more spiritual side of competition or self-motivation. “The Phenom” delves into the emotional toll of trying to perform at a super high level and the cost of weighty expectations.
Johnny Simmons, the young actor cast to play the rookie pitcher in “The Phenom” has been slowly making a name for himself, appearing in some big budget movies such as “Evan Almighty” in 2007 and “21 jump street” in 2012. But he really broke out on the indie scene after making “the perks of being a wallflower” that same year, closely followed by “the to-do list” with Aubrey Plaza and Bill Heder. Next up for Johnny is “Late Bloomer” which is directed by the actor/comedian Kevin Pollak and also stars JK Simmons and Maria Bello.
Actor Paul Giamatti grew up close to the sport because his father Bart Giamatti was not only an English renaissance professor, the president of Yale University, but he was the seventh commissioner of major league baseball in the late 80’s. Bart was famous for negotiating the agreement terminating the Pete Rose betting scandal by permitting Rose to voluntarily withdraw from the sport to avoid further punishment.
Ethan Hawke has been nominated for four academy awards …twice for screenwriting (“Before Sunset” And “Before Midnight”) and twice for acting…as the free-spirited father in “Boyhood” and the rookie cop in “Training Day” opposite Denzel Washington.