Actress Susan Sarandon has been enjoying a long and varied career. The earliest movie I've seen her in is Billy WIlder's 1974 remake of 'The Front Page,' in which she sings between films at a movie theater and tries to lure Jack Lemmon away from journalism into a life of respectability. It's a far cry from her portrayal of Sister Helen Prejean in 'Dead Man Walking,' which won her a Best Actress Oscar in 1996.
She's danced around in lingerie in 'The Rocky Horror Picture Show,' defied authority in 'Thelma and Louise,' and threatened to destroy Manhattan as the wicked Queen Narissa in' Enchanted.' She's played one of the most understanding mothers in American literature -- Marmee in 'Little Women' -- and also one of the meanest bitch moms ever to scorch the screen in 'Igby Goes Down.' Over the years, she's moved from perky heroines to memorable moms and in last year's 'The Lovely Bones,' even a feisty grandmother.
But as the World Series is about to gear up, I'm reminded of Susan Sarandon's best role ever: Annie Savoy in 'Bull Durham,' who loves baseball, literature, and one minor-league player per season, usually the young ones in need of "life experience." Sarandon has had her share of sexy characters, but none are quite as alluring, compelling and downright amusing as Annie.
Sarandon was over 40 when she made 'Bull Durham,' proving that people who think sex appeal is limited to the under-thirties are just plain wrong. Annie Savoy doesn't walk, she sashays, and under her full skirts, her hips swing harder than any of the Durham Bull players. Her periodic utterances of "Oh, my," are practically a sexual act in and of themselves. Writer/director Ron Shelton scripted a beautiful monologue for Annie at the beginning of the movie ("I believe in the church of baseball ...") that sets up her character and the movie's situation perfectly, as you can see in the following clip.
'Bull Durham' is about the baseball season in which Annie may or may not have picked the wrong baseball player to hook up with for the season. She chooses up-and-coming pitcher "Nuke" LaLoosh ... played by Tim Robbins, which started a long-term offscreen relationship between the two. In 'Bull Durham,' however, Sarandon's character is sorely tempted to break her season-long monogamy for the team's catcher, Crash Davis, who has been assigned to be Nuke's mentor. I was never a big Kevin Costner fan until this film -- he and Sarandon work well together, swapping punchy dialogue and slowly starting to smoulder onscreen.
A woman who loves baseball, poetry and sex, and whose idea of a fun time is to tie her partner to the bed and read Walt Whitman to him with Edith Piaf music on for background, is a challenge to play convincingly. It would be too easy for Annie to be a stereotype or caricature, but Sarandon gives her depth and warmth and makes her believable. The movie's focus is equally divided between Annie and Crash -- the guy doesn't take over the picture -- and I believe this is due to Sarandon's strength in the role.
Susan Sarandon tried to reprise her success playing a sexy older woman with a younger man in the 1990 film 'White Castle' with James Spader, but Nora Baker was no Annie Savoy. Although she's played many powerhouse roles since 1998, and I've enjoyed watching most of those characters, her best has always been 'Bull Durham.' Her next role will be in the Duplass brothers' comedy 'Jeff Who Lives at Home' ... and I can't wait.