The children of today are able to take for granted a great many things that people of only a few generations ago struggled with every day. It can be hard to convey these types of problems but Extra Innings, a Simba Production written and directed by Albert Dabah, indeed succeeds at this feat. This touching tale is based on a true story of the author’s life and struggles growing up as a Jewish, baseball-loving boy of Brooklyn in the 60s.
The story centres around the youngest of four children, David (Aidan Pierce Brennen, later played as an adult by Alex Walton), an aspiring baseball phenom. His parents are Esther and Eli (Geraldine Singer and Albert Dabah himself) and are old school, devoutly Jewish with high expectations of all their children but especially David, since he is weeks away from his all-important Bar Mitzvah. Neither parent wants to hear about his love of the sport, instead they insist he work on his Hebrew and prepare for his foray into adulthood. Once he reaches adulthood, he must decide between pleasing his parents or following his dusty dreams onto the baseball diamond.
His siblings are all older and influence his life in tremendous ways, both good and bad. His older sister Vivian (Mara Kassin) lives in California, and is depicted as a disappointment since she has moved away, then becomes divorced and ultimately a lesbian. However, none of it matters to David since she is truly the only family member that is interested in his happiness.
He has an older brother, Morris (Robby Ramos) who is mostly a recluse and by today’s definitions might be considered to be on the autistic spectrum, since he is portrayed as highly intelligent but lacking in social skills and also afflicted by severe depression. However, in this time period, children like this were unfortunately seen as an embarrassment, and parents were at a loss for how to deal with them. Ramos’ acting is brilliant in conveying emotion and the problems with needing extra time to communicate (and in some instances not even wanting to communicate). One scene is so poignant between him and Vivian, where they both so desperately need each other for support but because her speed is 100 MPH and Morris’ is the exact inverse, they fail at providing any kind of meaningful help for either of them. Even without speaking a word, this actor conveys so much pain and sentiment with his facial expressions that viewers can almost sense what he is trying to say to his troubled sister.
Morris has a brief time where he comes out of the prison of his mind with a foreign maid, Maria (Victoria Ric), but his mother catches on and since the relationship would be inappropriate for this time period she is sent away and Morris has no way to convey how much she meant to him, and instead destroys his room and sinks further into depression and seclusion.
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Sadly this leaves David with two parents who don’t understand him, nor do they care to, dealing with the problems of their two older children, and David, a boy who loves a sport at which he has an amazing natural ability. Thankfully he has a coach (Ed Bergtold) who encourages and nurtures that love. The hero in this story for David is completely and absolutely baseball, which saves him from his troubled family and pulls him out west to California for college and a place where he can live his life without the pressure to be anything but what he was meant to be.
Extra Innings is not an easy watch, since it covers some big social issues that weighed heavily on those who were part of this era. As viewers watch the story unfold, it is hard to imagine that this much tragedy can happen to one person in one lifetime, and if it had been a fictional story, one would probably deem this account too far-fetched. However, for Albert Dabah, this was just his life. It should and will make the audience cringe at the xenophobia of his parents, the pain of suicide, the struggle of finding your own way in the world, young love, same sex coupling, drugs, incest, and finding the strength to overcome lifelong prejudices, as difficult as that may be, for the sake of one’s children.
This movie does an amazing job of telling the story of mental illness from a perspective of those helpless to understand or help those afflicted, but whom are loved dearly. For anyone who has lived or loved someone with mental illness, this will surely draw parallels, and for those who haven’t, it certainly pulls back the curtain and allows a peek into the confusing and trying world of being in such a situation. And for Albert Dabah, who plays his own father intensely, this movie serves as a heartbreaking love letter to his dear siblings who will forever be in his thoughts, even after decades have passed.
Extra Innings is currently screening at film festivals around the USA.