Fever Pitch (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

I will be surprised if this film does well in New York City. Yankees fans, accustomed to success, are still smarting from last year's humiliating debacle, and a romantic comedy that capitalizes on the Red Sox's triumph is unlikely to pack theaters in the Five Boroughs.

Fever Pitch is a curious mix of smarts and schmaltz. The unusual combination derives from the group of creative collaborators involved in the film's development. The Farrelly Brothers, operating outside of There's Something About Mary territory, prove that they are as capable of bringing a generic, formulaic romantic comedy to the screen as they are of producing something more edgy. (Only one scene – involving vomit and a dog – can be called a "Farrelly moment.") The screenwriters are the team of Lowell Ganz & Babloo Mandel, who have elevated fake sentimentality to a high art. Their tendency towards artificiality is mitigated somewhat by the fact that they're adapting from a book by Nick Hornby (who retains an Executive Producer credit).

As I have often said, the key to a romantic comedy working is often whether the filmmakers invest the audience in the plight of the main characters. Do we have a rooting interest in these two getting together? This is something the Farrellys accomplish. And, considering that the male lead is played by the insufferable Jimmy Fallon, that may be a more significant achievement that it appears to be at first glance. Drew Barrymore has proven herself in this genre but it takes a shift of perspective to pull for someone as inherently irritating as Fallon. To his credit, the ex-SNL player hides most of his rough edges and manages only to aggravate when he's trying too hard to get a laugh. His slapstick scenes aren't just unfunny, they are embarrassing. But the Farrellys keep these to a minimum. Fallon is otherwise palatable, and we believe in his relationship with Barrymore's character.

Fever Pitch is the meet cute/fall in love/break up/happily ever after story of Lindsey (Barrymore) and Ben (Fallon). (Did you expect the movie to take some other path?) Their first encounter occurs when Ben, a math teacher, brings a group of select students to meet Lindsey, a high-profile executive who does something with numbers (her exact job description is left vague). Ben is attracted to her, and timorously asks her out, only to be rebuffed. Afterwards, Lindsey realizes that she may have made a mistake. Ben isn't like her past boyfriends, but that could be a good thing. Maybe what she needs is a nice guy, not someone driven by corporate ambition. So she calls him back and tells him she has changed her mind. For most of the winter, the blossoming relationship moves along smoothly, but, come March, Lindsey discovers that she has a rival for Ben's affections - Spring Training. Ben isn't just a Boston Red Sox fan, he is a Rabid Red Sox Follower. Suddenly, Lindsey finds herself planning events and trips around Red Sox home games, and begins to wonder whether Ben values the team more than her.

The film provides each character with three or four friends as a support group, but none of these characters is sufficiently developed to warrant more than a passing mention. (If one of Lindsey's gal pals looks familiar, that's because she's played by one-time "it" girl Ione Sky, the object of John Cusack's obsession in Say Anything.) In Fever Pitch, the only ones who really matter are Lindsey and Ben - and, of course, the 25 players comprising the Red Sox (a few of whom make actual appearances rather than just showing up in game archive footage).

Sports widows will probably relate to Lindsey's plight, and long-suffering fans of many teams will see reflections of themselves in Ben. (By the way, baseball fans in Boston no longer have the right to consider themselves "long-suffering" - they lost that privilege last October. If you want that moniker, you'll have to move on to another city. Try Chicago or Philadelphia.) The intelligent aspect of Fever Pitch's script comes from the way it balances its various elements. Ben is shown to be extreme, but the film never openly mocks sports addicts. Ben's love of the Red Sox is not belittled, and Lindsey tries her best to accommodate him. It's only when he turns nasty as a result of it that she has difficulty coping.

Reality, it seems, forced a re-write of the film's ending. Handled better, the "have your cake and eat it too" resolution might have been more satisfying, but the finale seems rushed. Having had the actors and a few cameras at the Red Sox's first World Series victory since the 1910's might have seemed like manna from heaven, but whatever footage the Farrellys captured is underused. Everyone except Yankees fans will feel shortchanged. And, with George Steinbrenner paying ever-steeper payrolls, they'll probably have their own feel-good story to tell in the near-future.

Fever Pitch (United States, 2005)

Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2005-04-08
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1