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
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 a 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 that while
a movie on the sport may go over like gangbusters in Manchester or Buenos
Aires, but will 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 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
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
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.
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Posted: April 25, 2005.