Outwardly, the premise of Albert Dabah’s Extra Innings is reminiscent of an underdog story. A young man who neglects sound stability for a supposedly quixotic dream has been the central plot of many films before. However, by taking from personal experiences and prioritizing the familial quandaries, Dabah’s writing debut is a cinematic work of searing intimacy.
David (Aidan Pierce Brennan) is a young boy growing up in 1960s Brooklyn with aspirations of becoming a professional baseball player. Unfortunately, his conservative Syrian-Jewish parents (Geraldine Singer and Albert Dabah) are not fond of the sport. Instead of supporting his lofty dream unconditionally, they are pressuring him into a religious, sensible lifestyle. Concurrently, David’s older brother Morris (Robby Ramos) suffers from mental illness and resides in his bedroom all day. His older sister Vivian (Mara Kassin) is off in California doing her own thing. Unlike David’s pious parents, Morris and Vivian fully support their sibling’s dream. When David finds Morris deceased in his bedroom from suicide, he is devastated. Flash-forward after high school, and David (Alex Walton) is still burdened with the tragedy but pertinacious in his pursuit of baseball.
Extra Innings has less to do with baseball and more to do with familial responsibilities and tragedy — and how said tragedy is poorly dealt with when no one dares to discuss it. The movie is completely and unabashedly committed to examining trauma, family relations, mental illness, and identity in an emotionally involved and tonally accessible manner. Perhaps it is David’s undying love of baseball that keeps the film generally optimistic. Maybe it is Dabah’s autobiographical touch that renders the movie truthful, even as the offhand dialogue suggests otherwise.
“…David finds Morris deceased in his bedroom from suicide…”
Singer delivers a wonderfully vulnerable performance as Esther, David’s mother. Esther deeply cares for her kids and the well-being of Morris, as does Eli, David’s father. But the family’s inability to communicate with each other in an open, honest manner has consequences, usually in the form of repressed anger, concern, or sadness. When Morris sought a permanent way out, everyone in the family avoided talking about the matter. David remains acutely, be it quietly, affected by Morris’s passing.
The inevitable age and actor transition is refreshingly fluid, in large part due to the dedicated performances from Aidan Pierce Brennan and Alex Walton, both of whom are convincing as David. Mara Kassin has a lovely presence as the spirited Vivian, and Robby Ramos’s emotionally stifled performance as Morris is particularly notable.
Keti Chichinadze’s production design is effective in capturing the dynamic fashion of the 1960s, and Luigi Benvisto’s cinematography is somewhat luminous, counteracting the existential panic of David’s predicament as if to uphold a sense of hope. While baseball gives David joy, it also leaves him feeling lonely as the dream goes against his father’s wishes and forces him to alienate himself from his family.
Extra Innings is a well-acted, low-budget drama with a screenplay that tackles many dramatic scenarios that warrant further scrutiny. Even so, the film meanders from one dire situation to the next without a moment to truly breathe and unpack what happened. It is a personal drama concerning identity, love, trauma, and family that attempts more than it can handle. That being said, the movie is a rewarding experience that’s complemented by a suddenly tragic and understatedly hopeful conclusion.
"…dedicated performances from Aidan Pierce Brennan and Alex Walton..."