The Phenom is a movie that really took me by surprise.
It’s about a pitcher named Hopper Gibson (Johnny Simmons), a kid just out of high school who has a 100 mile fastball and a big future in major league baseball. However, after a promising start, Hopper is struggling. He has control issues. He’s throwing wild pitches. He’s losing games. The team finally sends Hopper to see Dr. Mobley (Paul Giamatti), a sports psychologist who say that he can help Hopper regain his focus.
Hopper has a lot to deal with. He’s still just a teenager but he feels like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. He promised his mom that he’d buy her a new house and, at the same time, the press is constantly hounding him and demanding that he give them a good quote every time that he loses a game. Meanwhile, Hopper’s father (Ethan Hawke), who has always put tremendous pressure on his son, is failed ball player himself and a drug dealer. Hopper finds himself torn between two philosophies, his father’s belief that winning is the only thing that matter and Dr. Mobley’s more gentle approach to the game. The problem is that, with everyone wanting someone from him, Hopper doesn’t know who he can trust.
The Phenom is a baseball movie and the main character is a pitcher but hardly any of the action takes place on the mound. Instead, most of the movie takes place in either Dr. Mobley’s office or in Hopper’s head. The Phenom does a good job of showing the type of daily pressure that Hopper is living under. All of his life, everyone has told Hopper that he has a special gift and now, he’s so scared of not living up to his potential that he can’t get the ball across the plate. At the same time, the film is also critical about the the emphasis that society puts on celebrities and professional athletes. While Hopper goes into the major leagues straight out of high school, his valedictorian girlfriend struggles to pay for college. Because Hopper can throw a fastball, no one has ever cared about whether or not he actually got an education. But what’s going to become of Hopper and all the professional athletes like him when they can no longer play the game? Hopper is a kid who was always told that he would never have to grow up and now, he’s expected to make adult decisions about the rest of his life.
Johnny Simmons does a really good job playing Hopper and the film really makes you think about the pressure that society puts on professional athletes to constantly win. Most people can get away with having a bad day but, if a pitcher or a quarterback does it, the whole world wants their head. The next time I want to yell at whoever’s pitching for the Rangers, I’m going to remember Hopper and this movie.
The Phenom was directed and written by Noah Buschel and it is currently streaming on Netflix.