FEVER PITCH (2005)
Starring Jimmy Fallon, Drew Barrymore, Jason Spevack, Jack Kehler, Scott H. Severance, Jessamy R. Finet, Maureen Keiller, Lenny Clarke, Ione Skye, KaDee Strickland, Marissa Janet Winokur, Evan Helmuth, Brandon Craggs, Brett Murphy, Isabella Fink, Miranda Black, Great Onieogou, James B. Sikking, Johnny Sneed, Michael Rubinfeld, Willie Garson, Siobhan Fallon Hogan, Jason Veritek, Johnny Damon, Trot Nixon, Stephen King and JoBeth Williams.
Screenplay by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel.
Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly.
Distributed by 20th Century Fox. 98 minutes. Rated PG-13.
The books of Nick Hornby have had a good ride in the movies. The first two films based upon the Brit author’s novels — High Fidelity with John Cusack and About a Boy with Hugh Grant — were pretty near perfect films. Part of the reason is the fact that the stories were perfectly realized on the page, at a point that even if the film tweaks the stories a bit (High Fidelity moved the action from London to Chicago, About A Boy spent a little too much time on a silly school talent show) the basic storyline was faultless.
Fever Pitch right away has more built-in booby-traps to avert. First off, the source material was not a novel, but non-fiction rumination on the author’s obsession with football (that’s soccer for us Yanks.) Which of course brings with it the built-in problem: while a movie on the sport may go over like gangbusters in Manchester or Buenos Aires, it may be a tough sale in Cleveland. So the writers, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (City Slickers, Parenthood, A League of Their Own, Robots) have performed a radical surgery on the story, making it a romantic comedy based on life in the Boston cocoon of the Red Sox, Fenway Park.
Beyond the immediate worry that they may be stretching the storyline to a breaking point, there is the added concern that it is directed by the Farrelly Brothers, who can be funny but even when they try to be old softies, they don’t exactly have a romantic touch. (There’s Something About Mary, Shallow Hal or Me Myself and Irene, anyone?) Add to this an unproven male lead (Jimmy Fallon may have been funny on Saturday Night Live, but so far his movie star CV has the awful Taxi with Queen Latifah as its high point.). The female lead was a little better, however Drew Barrymore may be cute and likable, but she has made more than her share of awful movies as well (50 First Dates, Never Been Kissed, anything Charlie’s Angels).
And then the unthinkable happened… in the middle of making a movie about the hapless fans of a team that never wins the big one, the Boston Red Sox actually won the World Series for the first time since 1918, leaving the filmmakers scrambling for a new ending.
Therefore, Fever Pitch had its work cut out for it. The nice surprise is, while it is not nearly as good as the other two Hornby adaptations, it actually does work pretty well.
Fallon plays Ben, a cute and charming high school teacher who is kind, giving and just handsome enough to skate past his slight case of innate dorkiness when meeting women. When he starts dating Lindsay (Barrymore) a high-powered (and yet beautiful and also just slightly uncool) business woman, she decides to look past his much lower salary. When he doesn’t bail during the worst first date in history, she is surprised to find that he may actually be that truly good guy that she years of dating had her thinking may be just a myth.
Ben only has one problem. For the past twenty-three years, he has been part of a torrid, all-encompassing love affair. An affair that has not failed to disappoint him once, and yet he keeps coming back for more. Not with another woman, but with a baseball team. From spring training through to the fall classic, her nice, grounded, sweet boyfriend becomes a rabid fan. Nothing, not money, not love, not sex, can get between Ben and a home game.
At first, it actually seems like a blessing to her. He’s busy with his games, she has her career — nobody’s hurt if they don’t spend every waking moment with each other. However, she quickly finds out that she is in a competition that she can’t seem to win. Ben takes her to Fenway Stadium to feel the atmosphere, see the games and meet his wacky Fenway neighbors, all of whom are as hardcore as Ben is.
However, quickly she realizes that she is not quite sure she’s ready to play second fiddle to a sports team. When Ben makes a fool out of himself in front of her parents to avoid hearing the score of a game he wants to watch on tape later, and when he turns down a romantic weekend in Paris because the Sox are at home, Lindsay starts to doubt the relationship.
Of course, we all know how it will work out, but that doesn’t matter. The truth is the two are likable enough characters that we are rooting for them to find a middle ground. Will Ben, who frankly is a little over-the-top even for a rabid fan, allow another love into his life? Will Lindsay learn to deal with his mania and come to love him anyway?
The film suffers a bit from the Farrelly’s direction, honestly, because anything they touch has a lightweight, cartoonish tone, so we can’t get overly invested in the characters. They are certainly not deep, but they are fun and often funny and do keep our goodwill from floating over the Green Monster. (4/05)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2005 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: April 25, 2005.