Film — Fever Pitch (PG-13)

Fever Pitch (PG-13)

By Amy Diaz

Red Sox fans get a chance to relive the agony, the ecstasy and the multiple chances to hear the DropKick Murphys sing “Tessie” that was the 2004 baseball season in Fever Pitch, an Americanized adaptation of Nick Hornby’s novel that also includes some not-too-bad romantic comedy with Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore.

Jimmy Fallon plays Ben, a man who is “one of God’s most pathetic creatures: a Red Sox fan” according to the film’s voiceover. Naturally, there is no better place to see such a film than here, northern New England, a place full of many such pathetic creatures. Normally, I argue that a crowd does not make a movie-going experience but sitting in a theater while people boo (usually when the Yankees are on screen) and cheer (the first shots of Fenway get some spontaneous clapping) with the same lust of the diehard fans on-screen gives the movie quite a boost. In fact, if you think you are going to see this movie, I recommend seeing it this weekend (when it opens) in the evening when you are likely to get the biggest, most boisterous audience.

After all, many a man will both sympathize with and envy Ben’s situation—in addition to being a fan since the age of seven, Ben is a Red Sox season ticket holder. This means that from April through fall, his entire life is ruled by the game, the team and their home schedule. Luckily, math teacher Ben meets software designer Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore) during the off-season. On their first date, Ben goes to pick Lindsey up but finds his would-be date puking from food poisoning. Much to Lindsey’s surprise, Ben helps her get into bed, cleans up her vomit and even sticks around to make sure she’s OK. After so much nice-guy behavior, they can’t help but falling into a relationship built on the sort of cheery cuteness common to romantic comedies and Gap ads. The couple even overcomes the social hurdle of Lindsey’s career — one more financially rewarding than Ben’s.

Ben appears to be the perfect man, but Lindsey’s friends aren’t so sure. There must be some reason he’s still on the market, they tell her. Enter opening day at Fenway. Ben, as it turns out, isn’t just a Red Sox fan; he’s a diehard Red Sox fanatic. He’s addicted to the inevitable pain of that end-of-the-season they-blow-it moment. At first, Lindsey finds his devotion a charming quirk. But as the spring slips into summer, she views his willingness to miss social engagements and blow off potential trips less as a cutesy flaw and more as a serious boyfriend defect. Can they make it to the league playoffs or will the Curse of the Bambino spread to their relationship?

We know how at least part of the story will end even if, fun fact, the movie makers didn’t until after most of the principal photography was finished. One scene of the movie was shot at the final game of the World Series. For this and all the capture-the-mood shots that go into the movie, Fever Pitch acts a cute follow-up to Still We Believe: The Red Sox Movie. One of the diehard fans filmed in that documentary, Jessamy Finet, actually appears in this movie as a fellow season ticket holder who makes up part of Ben’s “summer family.” This film captures the flavor and sweetness of longtime fandom and the surprising reward of the 2004 season.

The Red-Sox-ness of the film helps to make us in the audience (or at least us in the New England audience) understand the level of team spirit that in, Fever Pitch the book, was actually targeted toward a British football team. The first movie made from the book tracked the details of the book more closely and starred the delicious Colin Firth. In this adaptation of the book, we get a bit more of the dopiness that generally accompanies an American romantic comedy but plenty of the Hornby smartness shines through the Barrymore slapstick. The movie also gets some help from the Farrelly brothers (fellow New Englanders), who direct and always manage to put heart in the silliness.

Perhaps the weakest links in this charm bracelet are its leads. Fallon is goofily amiable. This sort of Adam-Sandler-esque material is far more his speed than the horrific Taxi from early last fall. He gets no help, however, from Barrymore, who just can’t seem to make her high-powered career girl believable. Barrymore seems like a decent enough comic actress but she chafes against this role — it’s a sweater that is too tight in all the wrong places but still shapeless enough to hide any natural attractiveness. This is the third or fourth such role she’s played and the repetition makes it no more suited to her than her first awkward attempts.

Fever Pitch is not High Fidelity, with its music geek charm and its cute nerdiness, nor is it the clunkier but still sweet About a Boy. It is merely a charming little date movie for the dedicated Boston sports fan.

- Amy Diaz

 
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