A lot of people don’t like Chris Pratt, and Chris Pratt knows it. In a recent lengthy profile in Men’s Health, the Guardians of the Galaxy star was asked about being the least popular of the Chrises, lagging behind Hemsworth, Pine and Evans. What had he ever done to deserve such a backlash? Pratt’s theory was that some fans were turned off by a heartfelt but faith-centric speech he gave at the 2018 MTV Movie & TV Awards, where he said, among other things, “God is real. God loves you, God wants the best for you. Believe that, I do” and “Learn to pray. It’s easy, and it is so good for your soul.”
In the interview, Pratt looks back on that moment, admitting, “Maybe it was hubris. For me to stand up on the stage and say the things that I said, I’m not sure I touched anybody.” But the article’s author, Mickey Rapkin, may have been just as right with his alternate theory, which is that “Pratt has possibly been a victim of his own success — both onscreen and in the gym. As doofus Andy Dwyer on Parks and Rec, he was one of us, memorably sitting at a restaurant presciently called Jurassic Fork, insisting on a fresh rack of ribs to devour in every take just to make his co-star Nick Offerman laugh. Pratt was an everyman, a hero we could imagine shooting whiskey with. But he was also tired of losing out on bigger roles to men with, well, no rolls. He hit the gym to snag the part of a major-league first baseman in Moneyball, emerging from the weight room with steel-cut abs and arms and (for the first time in his career) options.”
There are plenty of explanations for the culture’s negative view of Pratt. Some folks are angry he left his wife Anna Faris, marrying Katherine Schwarzenegger, Arnold’s daughter. Some are turned off by his vocal expression of his religious faith — and more specifically, his supposed ties to a church with anti-trans views. (Pratt got into that in the interview, kind of.) Maybe you think he’s been deeply underwhelming in the Jurassic World movies. But I think Rapkin speaks to what’s underlying these different complaints: We used to think of Chris Pratt as a self-effacing, lovable goofball, and in recent years he’s mostly ditched that persona to be a fairly generic movie star. It’s not simply that he made himself buff — it’s that he seemed to shed his sense of humor and charm in the process. We lost our Andy.
To be fair, Pratt’s done good work on the big screen in The Lego Movie and the Guardian films. He’s solid in a small role in Zero Dark Thirty. But with his uninspiring-look new Prime Video series The Terminal List dropping late last week, I find myself feeling nostalgic for the Pratt that used to be — and of all his films, the one I keep returning to is the one Rapkin referenced, Moneyball. That’s the Chris Pratt I really miss.
As you probably know, the 2011 drama, based on Michael Lewis’ book, is about the 2002 Oakland A’s, as their scrappy general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt) tries to put together a decent team despite the club’s measly payroll. Hiring Jonah Hill’s Peter Brand, Billy uses sabermetrics to find undervalued players, including Scott Hatteberg, a catcher who blew out his elbow, making it basically impossible for him to throw. It looks like Hatteberg’s career is over, until Billy comes over to his house to offer him a contract. The A’s like him for first base, a position he’s never played.
The scene, written by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, encapsulates Scott’s entire character in three minutes. Depressed on New Year’s Eve, convinced no team wants him for the upcoming season, Scott watches his fortunes change once Billy and coach Ron Washington (Brent Jennings) walk through the door, giving him a new lease on life. The Pratt we see here isn’t so different from Andy: Scott is a big, melancholy puppy dog, not exactly the coolest, but definitely a good guy — there’s a wholesomeness that Pratt brings to the role that’s enormously appealing. Three minutes after you meet Scott, you’re rooting for him, even though it seems doubtful that he can learn first base in time for spring training.
Scott feels the same way, and while he’s a minor character in Moneyball, in some ways he’s the person the audience most identifies with. We’re not as cocky as Billy or as ornery as A’s manager Art Howe (Philip Seymour Hoffman) or as nerdy/brilliant as Peter. We don’t have the athletic prowess of the team’s ballplayers — and yet, Scott feels like one of us, pretending in every situation that we know what we’re doing even though we really don’t. When veteran superstar David Justice (Stephen Bishop) checks in on Scott, Pratt plays the scene with an Andy-ish vulnerability. Have you ever had one of those dreams when you’re back in school and you’re not ready to take the final exam? That’s Scott’s life as he muddles through figuring out first base, and Pratt mines the humor and quiet panic of the situation. It’s a tiny moment, but it’s so well done.
The 2002 A’s weren’t your typical inspirational story — they defied the odds, although they didn’t win the World Series (or even get to the World Series) — and so Moneyball’s big sports finale involves something else, a walkoff home run that gives the team 20 wins in a row, the longest streak in professional baseball at that point. For the most part, director Bennett Miller avoids sports-movie clichés, but when Art tells Scott to pinch-hit in a crucial late-inning situation, the stage is set for the kind of cinematic fireworks reminiscent of The Natural. This scene is also just three minutes long.
Pratt added muscle for the role, and he had to learn how to bat left-handed — he’s a natural righty -— but he’d been an athlete as a kid, playing baseball throughout much of his childhood. (He also did track, football and wrestling.) But although he had the right body for Scott, the character’s self-deprecating modesty was the unexpected surprise — unless you’d been watching Parks and Rec, of course, and had come to love Andy for being such a sweet, dopey everybro. However, Andy was just a massive goof-off, while Scott had a family and real-world responsibilities, and you can feel that weight on him. In Moneyball, Pratt seemed all grown up. You couldn’t help but feel proud of the guy. Look at how far Andy had come.
Being possessive about actors is one of the dumber things a person can do. (You live your life, let them live theirs.) Still, for anyone who discovered Pratt on Parks and Rec, it was hard not to want to take him under your wing the same way Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson does, making sure to guide him in the right direction. Both Chris Pratt and Andy Dwyer exuded such a boyish innocence that you were afraid of what the world might do to them. That’s why the lack of self-consciousness in his performance as Scott Hatteberg feels especially poignant now — that young actor didn’t realize how huge he was going to be, and all the backlash that would follow.
I think it’s why I keep returning to Moneyball when I feel bummed about how Pratt’s career has progressed since, at least creatively. Scott hits the big home run. He runs around the bases, absolutely giddy. It’s a perfect ending. Pratt has kept on going, but part of me wishes time could have just stood still. But that’s now how life, or baseball, works.