Comedy Romance ‘Fever Pitch’ Is Lukewarm

The Farrelly’s’ comedy romance Fever Pitch has a tidy plot that works despite baseball rather than because of it.

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 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 quickly ensures 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 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 film, and screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel avoid dramatizing the game. So we’re left with a tidy plot that works despite baseball rather than because of it.

Had the Sox not won the pennant and Series (as an earlier screenplay draft was counting on), it’s hard to imagine the central love story in Fever Pitch would’ve been affected. The guy gets the girl, with or without help from David Ortiz. Rather, the baseball metaphor 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 sacrifice, even though love seems only a game. Title cards echoing these sentiments needlessly divide the film into chapters.

Barrymore, who also produced, grounds Fever Pitch. 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 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 film like he’s doing penance for his role in Tim Story’s Taxi (2004).

One puzzlement. The credits say Fever Pitch is “based on the book by Nick Hornby”. This is misleading. Hornby, the British author, wrote a book in 1992 called Fever Pitch, a memoir of his football obsession and relationship with Arsenal. But there is no similarity between the book and the film except for sport lust and the title. The book’s “Pitch” is the football field, and the movie’s “Pitch” is the act of throwing a baseball. Hornby’s book has no love story, and the film’s narrative is a complete invention. Saying Fever Pitch is based on Fever Pitch is like saying Roland Emmerich’s The Patriot (2000) is based on the US Constitution.

Fever Pitch is one of the few Farrelly films the brothers have not also written, evident in its conventional approach of 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 ends up shaving someone else’s testicles. Insert requisite baseball pun here.