The first line of this review was going to be “The Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino last fall, but now they’re stuck with the ghost of Jimmy Fallon’s career.” But, as improbable as a comeback from a 3-0 pennant race deficit, the world’s most likable person (Drew Barrymore) somehow rubs off on its least likable and Fever Pitch, despite Sox saturation and Fallon fatigue, gets on base.
Directed by the Farrelly brothers, Fever Pitch is a meditation on the Boston Red Sox fan, or “one of God’s most pathetic creatures,” as our narrator intones at the beginning (obviously he hasn’t bellied up to a bar with the Buffalo sports fan, whose grief isn’t limited to one franchise). Fallon plays Ben, a mild-mannered math teacher who is still single at 30 because of his matrimonial bond to the Sox.
Lindsey (Barrymore), a big-shot business consultant, interprets his devotion as old-fashioned romanticism. She’s drawn to Ben’s childlike passion for the game, though he is quick to make sure she understands the extent of it before they get serious. She says she does; she’s crazy about her work just as he’s crazy about baseball. They’re both passionate people with a burgeoning passion for each other. But games start getting in the way of family visits, birthday parties, and Ben and Lindsey’s future together. This is the 2004 season. Anything can happen.
Fever Pitch is something more complicated than a paean to the Red Sox mystique, even though the Farrellys are diehard fans. We know the Red Sox won in real life and will win in the movie, and screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel avoid dramatizing the game. So we’re left with a tidy plot that works in spite of baseball rather than because of it. Had the Sox not won the pennant and Series last fall (as an earlier draft of the screenplay was counting on), it’s hard to imagine the central love story would’ve been affected. The guy gets the girl, with or without help from David Ortiz. It’s the baseball metaphor that is taxed — Lindsey’s a great catch, but can Ben make it to first base, second base, third base, all the way? Both parties have to make a sacrifice, even though love seems only a game. Title cards echoing these sentiments needlessly divide the film into chapters.
Barrymore, who also produced, grounds the movie. When Ben realizes the importance of a game he missed to be with Lindsey, the absurdity of his reaction would have deflated the movie if not for Barrymore’s cutie-pie gravitas. She lends a dignity to the proceedings, putting in the fizz while balancing the sugar. The gods of romantic comedy should watch over her for their own sake. Fallon, a Yankee fan in reality, meets Barrymore halfway. Relatively sedate, he serves the movie, like he’s doing penance for Taxi.
One puzzlement. The credits say Fever Pitch is “based on the book by Nick Hornby.” This is a lie. Hornby, the British author, did write a book in ’92 called Fever Pitch, a memoir of his football obsession and his relationship with Arsenal. But there is no similarity between book and movie except for sport lust and the title — the book’s “Pitch” is the football field, the movie’s “Pitch” is the act of throwing the baseball. There is no human love story in Hornby’s book, and the movie’s narrative is a complete invention. Saying Fever Pitch is based on Fever Pitch is like saying The Patriot was based on the Constitution.
This is one of the few Farrelly films the brothers have not also written, evident in its conventional approach — meet-cute, puppy love, rift, and reconciliation. While they do not cork the film with Carrey-style antics, the Farrellys still make it theirs. Someone does end up shaving someone else’s testicles. Insert requisite baseball pun here.