Film Reviews: Wednesday, April 06, 2005
Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore take in each other and the Red Sox game (in that order) in ‘Fever Pitch.’
Fever Pitch
Starring Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore. Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly. Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, based on Nick Hornby’s memoir.
Rated PG-13.
Baseball Blahs

The American version of Fever Pitch encounters problems with the field.


If you’re familiar at all with the history of Fever Pitch, you may well be befuddled watching the current Hollywood movie bearing that title. It began life as a 1992 memoir by journalist Nick Hornby, detailing his lifelong passion for English soccer and how the tribulations of his Arsenal team had woven themselves into the fabric of his life. Occasionally self-indulgent, it’s nevertheless one of the best books ever about the phenomenon of sports fandom, written from the inside — a thoughtful man’s attempt to fathom why his deepest joy or most abject misery might depend on the actions of a few highly paid men on a field who happened to be wearing his favorite team’s jersey. (As Jerry Seinfeld so memorably said, all sports fans are basically rooting for laundry.)
The book was first made into a movie in 1997, a faithful if poky fictionalization scripted by Hornby himself and starring Colin Firth. The new Hollywood version of Fever Pitch is, by contrast, a thoroughly Americanized comedy about a Boston Red Sox fan. The move across the Atlantic isn’t the fatal flaw in this toothless film. After all, Hornby’s High Fidelity was made into an American movie and emerged miraculously unscathed. It isn’t even damaged that much by the fact that the Red Sox won the World Series last year in a far more dramatic manner than most Hollywood filmmakers could imagine.
No, this movie’s big misjudgment is girling up the material. The main character is Lindsey (Drew Barrymore), a high-powered Boston executive who’s fretting about still being single and unattached as she approaches 30. Her problems appear to be solved when she meets Ben (Jimmy Fallon), a nice, low-tech high school teacher who looks after her when she becomes violently sick shortly before their first date. However, Ben’s obsession with his ill-starred baseball team starts to become an obstacle in their relationship, and she’s mystified as to how this sweet, caring guy turns into a raving maniac when his beloved Sawx are the issue.
The story needed a female — or, more specifically, a non-fan’s — perspective on sports, but telling the whole film from that point of view is a mistake. The movie assumes that we, like Lindsey, know nothing about baseball, so its primers about the Red Sox’s tortured history will be laborious to even casual fans. So much has already been written on this particular subject, and this film adds nothing to our understanding of why people stick with a team that inflicts so much pain on them. Nor does it make Ben relate to the Sox in a unique or interesting way. The movie’s so generic, he might as well be a fan of the Cubs or the Astros or even (gulp!) the Yankees. Details large and small come out wrong: Long-time Bostonians never really bought into the idea that Babe Ruth had cursed the team. (That was mostly a post-1986 creation of the city’s sports media.)
Yet these sports-related failings, large as they are, would be forgivable if the movie worked as a romantic comedy. In its defense, screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel come up with some decent jokes, and the two leads seem to genuinely like each other. Even the oft-maligned Fallon is somewhat tolerable here. He’s much easier to take when he’s not cracking up over his own jokes as in his SNL work, and his soft good looks suit the role of a charming guy with some growing up to do. (That said, Fallon’s too lightweight to inhabit the John Cusack role. He has a scene where he bursts into tears over losing his girlfriend, and he gives it a nice shot, but it doesn’t come close to working.) There’s even an impressive trio of actresses playing Lindsey’s friends: KaDee Strickland, Marissa Jaret Winokur, and Ione Skye — were you wondering where Diane Court had gone to?
The movie is directed by the Farrelly brothers, filmmakers who’ve had a few hits and are New England-born sports fans to boot. They’d seem to be a fine choice for this project, yet they never capture the Boston atmosphere, and their direction is anonymous hackwork, with no hint of the engaging weirdness of their better (if overrated) movies like There’s Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber. Everything about this film is studiously blanded out in that familiar Hollywood way. The English Fever Pitch at least had the guts to show its hero treating his girlfriend badly in frustration over his team’s lack of success. This one doesn’t even go that far; it’s too afraid of making its hero into anything other than a nice guy. This film quickly recedes into the kind of movie that a 14-year-old girl describes as “cute” — inoffensive and instantly forgettable.

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