A character study focusing on a young man's struggle to get out of his own head and recapture the love he once had for the game of baseball, "The Phenom" has several affecting performances and some creatively choreographed cinematography by Ryan Samul (2015's "Dark Was the Night
"). What it doesn't have is a fully realized screenplay to bring home its intimate story. Johnny Simmons (2013's "The To Do List
") finds plenty of emotional nuance in his front-and-center role as Hopper Gibson (Johnny Simmons), a Major League pitcher who finds himself downgraded to the Minors when the loss of control in his arm begins to cost his team games. As sports psychologist Dr. Mobley (Paul Giamatti) begins to explore Hopper's deep-seated issues, scenes set during his high school careerwhen he was the #3 ranked prospect in the country, frequently intimidated by his domineering, abusive father (Ethan Hawke)reveals what may very well mark the troubling genesis of his future hang-ups.
Running a brief 87 minutes and ending abruptly at a point when one assumes the third act is still approaching, "The Phenom" lacks cohesion and the necessary connective moments that turn a promising yet potentially undernourished narrative into a three-dimensional whole. The structure is disjointed, with flashbacks to Hopper in high school calling such little attention to themselves it is easy to assumeand as a result, grow confused whenthey seem to be a part of the chronological timeline. Certain dialogue exchanges, including the final one between Hopper and Mr. Mobley, hold an archness to their words that isn't entirely believable. Supporting characters, like Hopper's supportive mom Susan (Alison Elliott), English teacher June Epland (Elizabeth Marvel), and blisteringly honest TV reporter Rachel Cullum (Marin Ireland), show up and just as quickly disappear without proper arcs. Alongside Johnny Simmons, Paul Giamatti (2015's "San Andreas
") gamely does all he can with the relatively thankless part of Dr. Mobley, and Ethan Hawke (2016's "Regression
") is spitefully riveting yet far from one-note as demanding, untrustworthy, clearly jealous dad Hopper Sr. "The Phenom" doesn't exactly round its way to a satisfying conclusion so much as it settles on a last scene and cuts to credits, leaving the film feeling curiously unfinished. There is a stronger, deeper, fuller motion picture to be made from this material. Earnest though it is, this one is decidedly far from phenomenal.