The all-American pastime of baseball has fueled a flock of coming-of-age films, from Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused and Everybody Wants Some!! to youth comedy staples like The Sandlot and Bad News Bears, not to mention Penny Marshall’s softball classic A League of Their Own. While Grear Patterson’s Giants Being Lonely follows two teammates on a varsity baseball team during their last season before graduation, the film’s overarching exploration has much more to do with power, abuse and psychological breaking points—a far cry from the comfort inherent in the aforementioned amateur league comedies.
First-time writer/director Patterson is no stranger to the realm of visual arts. His extensive body of work includes paintings and photographs that capture a kitschy Americana vibe, an aesthetic that is equally embedded in Giants Being Lonely. Languid images conveying the sticky, sweaty haze of North Carolina in June—and the equally hot and stifling sensation of precarious crushes—dominate much of the film, with some obligatory shots of running the diamond and a perfectly pitched game sprinkled in to up the competitive ante.
Giants Being Lonely is most comfortable when able to languorously amble through sun-soaked vignettes of teenagers darting through lush greenery or diving into the murky depths of local watering holes, with only a tenuous plot threading these scenes together. Bobby White (Jack Irving) is a talented pitcher and unofficial town golden boy, easily outshining every other player on his team including the coach’s son, Adam (played by Ben Irving, Jack’s brother). Both boys pine after classmate Caroline (Lily Gavin), a love triangle that blooms under the looming promise of prom night. The power-starved coach (Gabe Fazio) doesn’t confine his disparaging barks and aggressive attitude to the dugout, lashing out at home towards Adam in horrific ways while his mom (Amalia Culp) cowers with her head bowed.
It’s important to note that Giants Being Lonely works far better as an immersive art experience than a straightforward narrative, its existence a blending of media and form that is both exciting and exhaustive. While the freedom of operating outside of narrative conventions and completely eschewing teen tropes allows for an expressionistic patchwork that at times feels fresh, this can also come off as somewhat rote and tedious. Only a shocking finale jolts the viewer into bewildered captivation, a creative decision that will surely split audiences; either the sudden shift will provide much-needed provocation or act as a cold bucket of water suddenly thrust upon a nearly lulled viewer.
Despite the artistic integrity with which the film strives to carry itself, the strength of the visual language of the film is unfortunately contrasted with lackluster performances. Outside of Fazio’s ability to communicate ruthless anger, the performances are overwhelmingly bland, an anomaly for teen-focused films that tend to dwell on the painfully profound emotions of adolescence. Even with the added pressure of athletic performance on top of love triangles and family abuse, Adam and Bobby’s shaggy blond exteriors hardly crack for the majority of the film. If the flatness of the characters and their surroundings convey the stillness and internal interpretation of looking at a painting or a photograph, then the intricacies of everything outside of the image could easily be considered frivolous. While this suspension of narrative convention is a welcome deviation from the cut-and-dry formula of many coming-of-age films, Giants Being Lonely stops just short of actually saying something salient.
Director: Grear Patterson
Writers: Grear Patterson
Stars: Ben Irving, Jack Irving, Lily Gavin, Gabe Fazio, Amalia Culp
Release Date: April 6, 2021
Natalia Keogan is a Queens-based writer who covers film, music and culture, with particular interest in the horror genre and depictions of sexuality and gender. You can read her work in Narratively, Filmmaker Magazine and Paste, and find her on Twitter.