The Slugger’s Wife (1985)
Written by Neil Simon
Directed by Hal Ashby
I truly despise this movie. It makes it hard not to dislike Hal Ashby entirely because it is so against everything he made at his peak in the 1980s. The characters are vapid and unlikeable. The story is terrible. I am still trying to make sense of how we ended up here. It’s honestly even more flabbergasting than anything we’ve seen before from Ashby. It is at complete odds with the moral sense the director brought to his early films and is absolute dreck.
Daryl Palmer is a player for the Atlanta Braves who meets rock singer Debby Huston while boozing at a club one night. He falls instantly for and aggressively courts Debby, basically pushing her into giving in and marrying him. Daryl believes she’s his good luck charm because when she attends his games, he hits home run after home run. However, Debby has a burgeoning career as a singer and can’t be there for all of Daryl’s games. Oh no, whatever will they do? Yawn.
Darryl is one of the most awful characters I’ve seen in a film in a long time, especially as our protagonist. He’s played by Michael O’Keefe (Caddyshack, Roseanne), and I am trying not to personally blame him for how awful this character is. Darryl whines like a child that his wife is has other commitments and can’t attend every single Braves game he plays. An MLB team plays 162 games a season! This asshole demands that his wife comes to them all because she is his “good luck” charm. And we are supposed to sympathize with him later in the movie. He’s an arrogant jerk. That’s not to say Debby is great or anything.
Debby (Rebecca DeMornay) is a paper doll. She plays the character with this breathy stupidity that grates on your last nerve. The only character trait Debby has is that she’s a singer. And she wants to make an album. Her relationship with Darryl is wholly one-dimensional, and we never understand why they are together as a couple. They meet and end up together in the first eleven minutes of the film, and we never explore the depth of their love any more profound than that. Debby is presented as being reasonable about wanting her own career, and the movie makes a moderate admonition of Darryl. However, we are intended to be in the middle wishing these crazy kids could just make things work out.
Both Hal Ashby and Neil Simon have storied careers of telling great relationship stories. Ashby gave us Harold & Maude and Coming Home, to name just a few. He knows how to tell the story of people in love and the challenges they must overcome. There is no challenge of substance here, just a bitchy baseball player who wants his wife to kowtow to him because he’s superstitious. There are pitiful attempts to make this a romantic comedy, but they end in complete and total cringe.
I just hate this movie with every fiber of my body. It’s the antithesis of everything I love about Hal Ashby, and it honestly leaves me stunned. I want to know how he ended up here. Some accounts of his later years say he was binging on cocaine, but other people close to him say those were horrible studio rumors. Something went wrong, he changed drastically post-Being There. It’s alleged that his cocaine use was so bad during this movie that it affected his ability to edit. He delivered a cut of the film that had no dialogue in the first 20 minutes. He is definitely one example of how indulging a filmmaker can go horribly wrong. Just two more to go, thank god.