The family comedy/drama A Little Inside, adapted from a 14 minute short of the same name directed and written by Kara Harshbarger, provides solid drama and characters you really care about. Harshbarger also wrote and directed this full length feature starring Hallie Kate Eisenberg (Paulie, Beautiful) as Abby Mills who begins to seek more female influences due to the void in her single parent family. Her dad, Ed, played by Benjamin King (TV’s Liv and Maddie), must deal with Abby’s growing needs while mulling over an opportunity to play minor league baseball again after a five-year absence and possibly make it to the major leagues.
The beginning scene captures the characters dynamics perfectly as Abby tries her best at her pee wee league baseball. “I can’t hit at all,” Abby says, “We lose because of me.” Ed’s over zealous next door neighbor Nancy, played by Kathy Baker (TVs Picket Fences, Cider House Rules), sees Abby’s frustration and begins to take an increased interest in Abby by having her over for sleepovers and braiding her hair. Nancy creates an interesting dynamic in the Mills’ household by providing help & hurt at the same time though she has good intentions. Eventually she encounters the same type of problems identifying with Abby that Ed has. “I don’t know what to do when she’s upset,” Nancy says to Ed.
Ed’s work as a mechanic keeps his life steady but when his new co-worker Matt, played by Jared Padalecki (TVs Gilmore Girls), recognizes Ed from his glory days as a minor league star, it lights a baseball fire that has been burning under Ed for a while. His number one priority, namely Abby, now seems to be a liability, even though he loves her very much.
Ed also seeks his former coach, Tom Donner, played by Frankie Faison (Down to Earth, Thomas Crown Affair) for some helpful advice. Coach Donner provides some solid support for Ed’s impending comeback with dialogue like “Don’t waste anytime trying to get those years back.” You’re led to assume he’s a good coach even though you don’t see him actually coaching or providing extraordinary guidance to other players. The assumption gains strength as Coach Donner offers Ed insightful tidbits regarding the “blind spot in his life” which becomes easy to see because of their simple lives and small town setting. Coach Donner has a functional role that could’ve been expanded, but the focus mainly stays on Ed and Abby.
Eisenberg and King have great family chemistry together especially during a scene when they’re packing luggage. Their relationship anchors the movie as other characters act as supplements to their life story including the widely recognizable Amanda Detmer (Saving Silverman, The Majestic, Big Fat Liar) who plays Sarah Parker, a local single parent. All mentioned supporting characters see the struggle Ed and Abby must endure to continue their paths in life. It’s a hard task especially when Ed has a chance to fulfill a lifelong dream and Abby longs to grow with her father while experiencing life from a more female perspective. This vital family dynamic also affects Abby’s education at school and Ed’s baseball career.
The crew and filmmakers make good use of the characters’ traits in the story by using parallels and subtle drama to emotionally connect with the audience. For example, a beginning sequence where Abby can’t find a team partner mirrors a sequence involving Ed’s initial return to baseball. Filmmakers also insert a great sequence, interlaced with Abby’s ballet practices and Ed’s baseball activities, that shows how they’re progressing personally in their interests, but drifting further away as a family. Essential background about Abby’s mother (Ed’s wife) also supports the well structured main characters.
Filmmakers make a few editing mistakes including a sequence where Abby’s lips don’t move, but you can still hear her talking as a car drives away from a bus and another sequence where Ed comes home after an important night game and you can see daylight outside.
You eventually see the characters’ progress and how Ed and Abby changed their family dynamic to fill both of their needs (the scene where Ed joins in a girls’ discussion works especially well). Ed and Abby realize they “can’t both be in the spotlight” as Ed tries to understand Abby’s feminine needs and Abby realizes the importance of their family baseball rituals like having an indoor carpet picnic while watching a major league baseball game. Baseball not only provides entertainment in this movie, it also represents a family tradition full of deep memories and background that helps anchor this family, especially apparent in the final sequence where Abby again plays pee wee baseball.
A very satisfying family movie filled of decent content and many acts of love, kindness and genuine care. This Toledo, Ohio-born reviewer also enjoyed the numerous references to the local minor league baseball team, the MudHens as well as being an extra in this film for some of the exterior baseball stadium sequences. Many of the baseball scenes were filmed at the actual locations due to producer Greg Dunigan’s collaboration with Columbus Clippers general manager Ken Schnake. This quality, 95-minute film comes recommended (*** out of four stars) and is rated PG for two minor expletives.
Copyright © Michael Siebenaler