"Be a man! You're flinching," a drunken father snarls at his son as he hurls fearsome fastballs at the preteen boy.
"Stay in the box," he barks, baseball in one hand, Budweiser in the other. "Stay in there."
Another scorcher whizzes past the kid's head. "Strike 18, you little sissy." And another. "Strike 19. You gonna cry now? Is that what I'm seeing?"
Twenty years later, the boy, now a professional All-Star slugger for the Denver Grizzlies, prepares to take the field. Cory Brand's father has been dead since 2007. But the older man's cruel instructions still linger in his son's head, prodding him to perform. And the older man's vice has become the younger's, as Cory swigs a sip of clear liquor to steady his nerves before a game.
Moments later, he smashes one out of the park. But (perhaps due to his drinking) he misses third base, and his home run is disqualified.
Cory explodes, hurling bats, water coolers and threats. And raging in the dugout, he accidentally elbows the game's honorary ball boy, an earnest young fan named Carlos, giving him a bloody nose.
YouTube soon explodes, too, with the viral video of Cory's temper tantrum garnering a million views overnight.
Cory tries to sweet-talk his way out of the incident. But his out-of-control behavior earns him an eight-week suspension. Doing damage control, his agent, Helene Landy, sends him back to his hometown of Okmulgee, Okla., to publically apologize to Carlos. And in the middle of that press conference, she springs another surprise, announcing that Cory will help coach Carlos' local Little League team, the Bulldogs, for the duration of his suspension.
The other thing Cory will be doing for the next couple of months, Helene has already instructed him, is attending a 12-step rehab program to deal with his drinking problem. The only one in town? A (real-life) faith-based program called Celebrate Recovery.
Suffice it to say, Cory isn't happy about either assignment.
He guesses it doesn't hurt, though, that one of the other Little League coaches is his high school sweetheart, Emma Hargrove. Her son, Tyler, is Carlos' best friend. And Emma's doing the best she can to raise Tyler alone following her husband's death several years earlier.
She's determined not to let Cory's return rock her family's boat. But Cory's residence in Okmulgee does make waves. Fathers, sons and fans can't get enough of him—especially Tyler and Carlos. And soon, Cory's coaching has the Bulldogs winning games they used to lose.
That's all out in the open. Behind closed doors? Cory's still losing his skirmishes against alcoholism … losses that will soon cause even more collateral damage in his life if the spiritual principles of dealing with addiction he's hearing about at Celebrate Recovery don't begin to sink in.
Home Run is about a man struggling to come to grips with addiction. In that, it strives for a realistic depiction of just how self-destructive addiction can be and shows us that an addict's journey out of denial can be a long one.
Cory is used to success, the perks that come with that success and manipulating his way out of the problems his problem creates. But after he's sentenced to his hometown for eight weeks, Cory's forced—ever so gradually—to take a long hard look at himself in the mirror.
At first he attends Celebrate Recovery because he has to. As his drinking continues, further damaging his life and relationships, Cory begins to realize he does need help. Eventually, he also realizes the help he needs is spiritual in nature. (More on that below.) Thanks to his friends, family and faith, Cory discovers that his identity doesn't have to be shaped by his addiction or by the fact that he had an abusive father.
Cory's halting journey toward change frustrates Emma. She's tempted to re-engage with him but fears that her old beau will relapse and hurt her—and Tyler, who adores Cory—again. Cory's initial missteps justify that fear. But his sister-in-law, Karen, eventually compels her friend to give him a chance when it looks like he's genuinely dealing with his downsides. "Look, honey," she tells Emma. "I love you. But the only person who's not changing around here is you."
In a speech at Celebrate Recovery, Cory recognizes the crippling effects that addiction has on a family from one generation to the next. "I suffered because of my father's pain," he says. "And my father suffered because of his father's pain. But this is how it changes. This is when it changes." (Cory's willingness to forgive his deceased father is poignantly symbolized by him placing a baseball on his father's grave.)
[Spoiler Warning] It turns out that Cory is actually Tyler's dad. And as he makes his initial strides toward sobriety, he wants to re-engage as the boy's father. Emma is rightfully hesitant, determined to protect her son from Cory's "good intentions" until he can prove himself. Cory does falter, but eventually regains Emma's and Tyler's trust.
Oh, and that kid Cory elbows in the dugout? Well, he's just been adopted out of foster care by Cory's brother and sister-in-law, so there's a plug for adoption here too.
Celebrate Recovery is a Christian 12-step program meeting in a church. Thus, God and Jesus are repeatedly referenced, almost always in the context of the program's attendees talking about spiritual surrender as the key to overcoming addiction.
One Celebrate Recovery meeting closes with a recitation of the Serenity Prayer. Each meeting involves someone's testimony. A man recovering from pornography addiction says, "Because of Celebrate Recovery, I know now to run to God and His people when I need help." Another woman confesses, "I now believe God is a loving Father. He's not waiting to send me to hell for every mistake I make. No matter what my childhood experiences have taught me, I am valuable because I'm a child of God."
When Cory finally turns the corner in his battle, he credits God as well. "I've used alcohol my entire life," he says, "to replace the love and attention I never received from my father. But every drop of alcohol, every drug, every one-night stand, would never replace the ache inside of me, an ache that only God can fill. I tried to change, but I failed every time. And I know now that I'm powerless without God. With His help, I've found freedom from my pain and my habits that I never thought possible. … And today I can begin a new story. I'm a child of God. And I have a Father who loves me, on and off the baseball field."
We hear (circumspect) confessions of sexual addiction and sexual abuse at Celebrate Recovery meetings. There's talk of an unmarried couple having a kid. A man tells of losing his job, wife and family because of pornography. Cory's agent mentions a YouTube video in which he was "drunk at a strip club." Several women wear outfits that reveal some cleavage.
Cory has an explosive temper, as demonstrated by the on-field outburst that earns his suspension. At other stressful moments, Cory again combines angry verbal outbursts with hitting and throwing things. Both Cory and Clay (his brother) talk about how their dad physically abused them when he was under the influence. In one flashback, we see their father hurl a beer bottle at a barn wall.
Cory gets provoked by another coach (who's a local police officer) and eventually hits the man, resulting in his arrest for assault. Cory reprimands the same coach for being too hard on his son, which prompts the boy to throw a water cooler. That, in turn, causes the coach to ask Cory where he thinks his son learned such behavior. (The implication is that the boy learned it from watching clips of Cory's angry tirades online.)
Cory is drinking and driving in a rental Corvette when he and his brother get in an accident. Cory is left with a cut on his head. Clay has bruises on his face and is hospitalized with a neck injury.
Crude or Profane Language
Infrequent (mild) euphemisms include "gosh," "jeez," "dang" and "suck."
Drug and Alcohol Content
You've noticed already that the whole film is about drinking … and recovering from drinking. Cory's dad is a drunk, and so is he. Cory's (eventually) determined to break the chain of abuse and addiction. Note, though, that until he gives up drinking for good near the end, he's repeatedly shown downing the hard stuff by himself in his hotel room, as he drives and in a bar.
His dad's shown drunk as a skunk. And Cory's shown passed out with a bottle in his hotel room. He pays a hotel worker to keep his fridge stocked with "adult drinks." He staggers and wobbles as he hits baseballs out of the back of his truck in one scene and while knocking back shot after shot at a bar in another.
Cory gradually realizes his addiction is poisoning everything in his life. He then begins resisting the temptation to drink, eventually taking his mini-fridge out of his hotel room.
Other addicts at the Celebrate Recovery program talk about struggles with meth, crack and cocaine.
Addiction is messy business, but deliverance is possible for those who humble themselves and turn to God for help.
That's the core message in Home Run.
Now, I suspect some folks who've actually gone through the process of shedding a compulsive behavior by way of a 12-step group might find what we see here somewhat sanitized. And I also know that other families might cringe at (and rightfully shy away from) the amount of alcohol flowing through these scenes.
That said, I think the film strikes a reasonable balance as it seeks to show how hard overcoming addiction really is. And how necessary it is to take that first step—climbing out of denial and admitting that your addiction is killing you and your relationships. Cory doesn't fully take that step until the end of the film. But when he does, it opens the door to healing, forgiveness and reconciliation with those closest to him, including his brother and sister-in-law, as well as Emma and Tyler.
Of course, addictions aren't always about substance abuse. So Cory's story invites all of us to consider how our own bad habits and selfishness might be influencing those closest to us. To remember how fantastic and inspiring is God's grace. After all, apart from His redemptive, transformative work in our lives, all of us would remain enslaved in the spiritual morass of our sins—whether they medically qualify as addictions or not.