Get your Sox off
Farrelly brothers (and a Red Sox championship) wasted in likeable Fallon/Barrymore vehicle
In the new romantic comedy Fever Pitch, Ben (Jimmy Fallon) tells us that one of the things he cherishes in his beloved Lindsay Meeks is the cute way she has of sometimes talking out of the side of her mouth. Lindsay is played by Drew Barrymore, who does indeed have that very mannerism, and Fever Pitch is above all a film that adores Drew Barrymore.
And in some ways adorable behavior is just about all that the new Barrymore vehicle (directed, improbably, by the Farrelly brothers, Bobby and Peter) has going for it. The film’s publicity makes much of the Fallon character’s being a die-hard fan of the Boston Red Sox, in a love story unfolding over the course of the 2004 season, with its surprise—and championship—ending. But baseball fandom and the fortunes of the Red Sox are rarely more than flashy sideshows here, even when baseball mania sets up a circumstantial obstacle for the romantic plotting.
The screenplay (credited to the hot-shot team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel) is saddled with a double whammy—it’s adapted from Nick Hornby’s book about a soccer nut (himself), and its live-at-the-ballpark immersion in the Red Sox’s unexpectedly triumphant 2004 season leaves it stuck with more happy endings than it bargained for and a nationally televised deflation of Red Sox fans’ legendary frustrations. The baseball stuff ends up magnifying the impression that this is little more than a not-so-hot comic sketch trying to fill the big screen with two stars, a romantic plot and some flashy PR angles.
While it’s rarely more than an inconsequential trifle, Fever Pitch never quite loses its charm—thanks chiefly to Barrymore and Fallon. Both serve amiably in their assigned roles—"cute,” unmarried 30-something professionals (he’s a schoolteacher, she’s an advertising executive). Fallon has a good moment or two with his character’s emotional vulnerability, and Barrymore seems cheerfully invulnerable even when Lindsay claims her emotions have been wounded, but both are so agreeably—and visibly—eager to please that you root for them even when the characterizations cease to make much sense.
Jobeth Williams and James Sikking are somewhat wasted in the roles of Lindsay’s parents, and each of the main characters has a gang of friends who are seemingly on loan from some nondescript sit-com or other. There too Fever Pitch feels like TV-land leftovers trying to pump themselves up, and into, something bigger, if not better.