Not Even Wholesome-Ass Baseball Cards Are Safe from Scandal and Corruption
Jack of All Trades immediately caught my eye in the Netflix queue because of the font type that was unmistakably mimicking the Topps Trading Cards logo (yeah, I was one of those kids…and young adults…and middle-aged adults…who lost themselves in the rabbit hole of trading cards–specifically the baseball variety). It’s a little-engine-that-could documentary from Canada that presents itself with the following description:
Once upon a time, baseball cards were as much an American pastime as the sport. But then scandal rocked the multi-million-dollar industry for good.
A 90-minute doc on why the boxes of cards in my closet are not worth the millions I had hoped for? Oh, hells yeah, I’m in. Little did I know that this exposé about the rise and fall of the baseball card market was just as much a messy story about a hugely dysfunctional family growing up in the 80’s.
The story is disjointed from the outset. We meet Stuart Eisenstein, A.K.A. Stu Stone, child actor and cartoon voiceover guy, as he is coming home to Toronto to finally clear out the boxes of crap his mom has been bugging him about for years. Stu shows off a still-in-the-box Cabbage Patch Doll and other ridiculous ephemera he collected throughout his childhood. Then, he thinks he’s struck gold as he pulls out some minty boxes of cards from the piles of other crud still stuffed in the corner.
It’s at this point that we get the greater background of how his father, his one-time hero and most popular mullet in town, established the first great chain of sports collectibles stores across Canada. It was the best of times.
Jack Of All Trades then becomes a mash-up of storylines. Stu, clearly not wanting to address a bad history with his father, wants to understand why his perceived fortune isn’t worth $75. His long-time best friend and co-director Harv Glazer believes the only real story to tell is the one of childhood estrangement and daddy issues. Prodding things along are Stu’s older sister (who maliciously…errr…accidentally runs over a box of cards in the first 15 minutes) and his brother-in-law, who are both clearly riding any coattails their semi-celebrity relative may have.
The greatest 80’s contextualization throughout the movie is footage from Stu’s bar mitzvah, which took place a week before his dad disappeared and was the last time his family was together as a unit. It was the worst of times.
The thing in all of this fairly convoluted edit of a movie is that the themes of the 80’s come through more clearly than almost any other document around. It shows corporate deception that was happening by card manufacturers like Upper Deck. Also, it shows how Americans (and Canadians) become engorged by hedonistic consumerism and how they, and we, made the surface seem great even though so much rot existed inside. It even shows Jose Canseco, living in Las Vegas (of course) and more ‘roided up than ever. No wonder we all went to a collective place of grumbling and darkness in the 1990’s.
‘Jack of All Trades’ is a good, but not great documentary. It compellingly tells a good story and wraps it in wax paper with a stale piece of bubble gum inside. And it does expose the tawdry biz of baseball cards for what it was, which wasn’t really much to begin with. That’s why, ultimately, Glazer realized the real story was Stu’s family, not the family business.