The Farrelly Brothers get cute, sometimes a little too cute, with Fever Pitch, a sweet-enough look at sport obsession and how it can wreak havoc on a budding relationship. Based on a Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) novel that was already filmed in 1997 starring Colin Firth as a psycho soccer fan, the Farrellys replace soccer with baseball and Firth with Jimmy Fallon.
The results are a mixed bag, but that’s pretty good for any movie with Fallon as a headliner. He was on his way to becoming the world’s most annoying actor/comedian. For years, he managed to screw up nearly every Saturday Night Live sketch he was in because he couldn’t keep from laughing, and last year’s Taxi made it look like he had no business trying to cross over into movie land. Fever Pitch amounts to a pleasant detour for the man who laughed too much.
Fallon plays schoolteacher Ben, a man afflicted by an abnormal obsession with the Red Sox. (That is, abnormal if you aren’t from New England. If you are from that zone, you will probably concur that his obsession is at normal levels.) He meets sweet career mathematician Lindsey (Drew Barrymore) while on a field trip with students, and they soon make their way to dating (Ben and Lindsey, not the students).
All seems to be going well in the dating world as they proceed along at a gingerly pace, enjoying each other’s company and accepting each other’s quirks. Lindsey learns, little by little, that Ben likes his Sox a lot, but it takes some time before it starts to really irk her. When his obsession with the Sox prevents him from an impromptu Paris trip with Lindsey, things start to get touchy.
As a satire of sports-fan insanity, the film works real well, and Fallon pulls off the role. I especially liked moments like when the season tickets arrive at his home and are unveiled in an almost ceremonial manner among his envious friends. There are a couple moments where Fallon takes it too far (his ESPN appearance is just stupid), but overall, he’s a convincing baseball nut. The Farrellys are apparently rabid Sox fans, so many of the fandom antics feel authentic.
Barrymore does a great job making her feelings for this nutball seem honest and plausible. Her character is a workaholic, so she relishes the chance to be with somebody who doesn’t mind her demanding work schedule. When the character starts to get insulted about taking second place to the Sox, Barrymore makes the transition convincing.
The Farellys calm down for this one, easing up on their usual crude humor in favor of sweetness. They handle the sweetness fine, but they get a little too mushy at times. The few moments where they allow their crude humor to come through are precious. Barrymore taking a ball to the head is a thing of beauty.
Of course, Boston won it all last year, which left the Farrellys in a bit of a spot. Their script called for the traditional Boston Red Sox loss, so Damon and the boys really made life tough on Hollywood. The ending, although a bit outrageous, is handled nicely overall. A couple of years ago, an ending with the Sox winning it all would’ve been called ludicrous, fantasy instead of history.
While Fever Pitch is nothing to get all that excited about, it has a big heart and qualifies as a decent “feel-good” movie. Fallon manages to get through a movie without driving the average viewer to smash his or her face on a theater seat rather than watch him. That’s a feat almost greater than the Red Sox taking it all.