Fever Pitch

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Fever Pitch
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews Laura Clifford 
Mild mannered schoolteacher Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon) is an average kind of guy during the winter months who falls for smart, pretty Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore). But, Ben is also a rabid Red Sox fan and Lindsey soon learns what the phrase Dr Jekyll and Mr. Hyde really means when her boyfriend becomes the dreaded Summer Guy in “Fever Pitch.”


Ben first meets Lindsey when he takes some of the students from his class on a field trip to her company. (She is supposedly a mathematician, by education, but appears to be an executive at a company that brokers in low-cost private jets, or something. It may be an unimportant point but, still, it isn’t clear.) Ben is charming, funny, kinda cute and single. He persists in asking workaholic Lindsey out on a date and, eventually, she gives in to his boyish charms.

When she tells her close-knit group of friends – Molly (Ione Skye), Robin Kadee Strickland) and Sarah (Marissa Jaret Winokur) - about the schoolteacher, warning alarms go off. Why, they ask, is a 30-year old guy with all of the sensitive qualities that Ben has still on the market? There must be something wrong with him. Lindsey, thoroughly taken by the charismatic and funny teacher, ignores their warnings and the couple begins a sweet romance.

As the school year wanes and spring approaches Ben makes a confession to Lindsey. He tells her his story when, as a boy, his family relocated to Boston. He had no friends and his father convinces Ben’s Uncle Carl (Lenny Clark) to show the boy around the city. Carl, a lifelong bachelor, hasn’t a clue to what a little boy would like to do so he goes with what he knows – baseball. The two journey to historic Fenway Park and little Ben is introduced to the wonders of Major League Baseball and, especially, the Boston Red Sox. Uncle Carl’s passion for the hometown team readily transfers to Ben and a new member of the Red Sox Nation is born.

Ben tries to convey to Lindsey what it means to have a relationship with Red Sox fan but she, having not a clue to the nature of a real fanatic, thinks they can balance Ben’s passion and Lindsey’s on-track career. The MLB season begins and Lindsey’s job takes up her time and things look like they might work out after all. Then, the true nature of the fan comes out and the Red Sox home game schedule dictates Ben’s ever-waking hour. Suddenly, normal things like getting together with family and friends take a back seat to the schedule and frictions begin.

Directing brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly seem the most unlikely pair to take on a romantic comedy by script veterans Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (with 18 produced screenplays to their credit, including Splash” and “A League of Their Own”) of Brit writer Nick Hornby’s book, Fever Pitch, about a football (soccer, to us Yanks) fan. The helmers are known most for their screwball, slapstick comedies like “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary” but take on the “Fever Pitch” romance with enthusiasm. Sure there are a few out of place slapstick moments but the pair mostly adheres to the Ganz/Mandel script.

Things move along at a decent pace as the first bud of romance develops between Ben and Lindsey. The relationship ups a notch as the couple spends time together and gets to know each other. When Ben announces his passion for the Sox, things still look like they’ll work out fine. Then, the true nature of the beast comes through and things start to fall apart between Ben and Lindsey. The love story is a true microcosm of the emotional rise and fall the Red Sox fans have felt every year for 86 years - the joy, the frustration and the ultimate heartbreak. That is, until the 2004 MLB season. The Red Sox broke the curse of the Bambino and Ben and Lindsey break the curse of the fanatical Red Sox fan. It’s all handled in a sweet and funny way.

The two stars have an amiable relationship together on screen but I have always thought that Drew Barrymore showed her best chemistry with Adam Sandler (in “The Wedding Singer” and “50 First Dates”), making me wonder what the film would have been like with pairing. It’s not that Jimmy Fallon isn’t amusing as the 23-year long card carrying member of the Red Sox Nation. He has a good sense of comic timing honed from his years on Saturday Night Live. But, the actor, for the most part, does a Mike Myers impersonation (see So I Married An Axe Murderer”) instead of imbuing his own imprint on Ben’s character. The lack of real chemistry between the leads keeps “Fever Pitch” from reaching the pantheon of the better romantic comedies.

The supporting cast is okay as background characters but there isn’t anyone that shines out. Ben has a triumvirate of sidekicks – (Troy) Evan Helmuth, Kevin (Willie Garson) and Gerard (Armando Riesco) - but their presence an unrealistic, manufactured feel. Lindsey’s parents, played by James Sikking and JoBeth Williams do their veteran best but are given to caricature, especially Sikking. Red Sox players, Johnny Damon chief among them, make appearances, as do Stephen King and longtime Boston sportscaster Bob Lobel.

Techs are solid all around with Fenway Park used effectively – the fans, at the end of one of last year’s playoff games against the Yankees, were asked to stay after to be the crowd in the big scene in the flick. The 37000+ fans wholeheartedly and enthusiastically complied. Fenway park, with its Green Monster and long history (opened in 1910), is a real character in “Fever Pitch.” Cinematographer Matthew F. Leonetti catches the manic nature of, arguably, the country’s most avid baseball fans while production designer Maher Ahmad does an exemplary job in outfitting Ben’s apartment with Red Sox paraphernalia approaching psychotic proportions. Boston gets good shrift with the many exteriors of the city.

There is some question if others, outside of Red Sox country, will warm up to “Fever Pitch” but, like Hornby’s novel does for soccer, it should travel well to anywhere that baseball (and romantic comedy) fans may live. It is a sweet romance and an oft-funny comedy. Oh, yeah. Go Sox! I give it a B.

Lindsay Meeks (Drew Barrymore, "50 First Dates") is totally focused on her career as a high-powered business consultant when she is momentarily charmed by a visit from an East Boston High School group.  Teacher Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon, "Taxi," "Anything Else") is dared by a student to ask her out and once her yuppie friends convince her to go, she discovers a charming guy - so perfect, in fact, that her girlfriend Robin (Kadee Strickland, "The Stepford Wives," "The Grudge") is convinced he's hiding a terrible secret.  Come spring time, Ben unloads, telling her that he is a rabid Red Sox fan, and Lindsay's relieved, but when summer guy appears, it's like Jekyll turned into Hyde - Ben is at a "Fever Pitch."

Screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel ("Robots") rolled with the punches in adapting Nick Hornby's ("High Fidelity") novel (which dealt with his own soccer obsession) as the Red Sox ended the eighty-six year old 'Curse of the Bambino' after the biggest comeback in baseball history.  While Red Sox fans are sure to cherish any excuse to relieve the glory, it is not necessary to be one to enjoy the Farrelly Brothers' romantic comedy.  However, the Red Sox Nation may be more willing to overlook Jimmy Fallon's less than convincing portrayal of the obsessive fan, a role that screams out for Adam Sandler's ability to balance sweetness and testosterone (not to mention his sparkling chemistry with Barrymore).

Back in 1980, Ben and his mom moved to Boston and Sox fever was instilled by Uncle Carl (comedian Lenny Clarke, "Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events"), who also left his season tickets to his only nephew.  As a schoolteacher, Ben has the advantage of summers off, and he and his three buddies 'vacation' with their summer family, the neighboring season ticket holders of Fenway Park.

Ben's first date with Lindsay both proves his desirability when he arrives to find her stricken with a horrendous bout of food poisoning and stays to take care of her (cue Farrelly style vomit jokes).  Everything's hunky dory until Lindsay catches her beau at spring training on ESPN and realizes just how lunatic his team makes him.  Balancing her fast tracking job with his need to share Sox love proves tricky, and the relationship appears to be doomed until Lindsay hears that Ben is about to make the ultimate sacrifice and sell his season tickets.

The New England based Farrelly brothers strive for authenticity and it shows - the film takes on a documentary look and feel whenever Ben and Lindsay move around Fenway Park and it's a bit jarring when the actors settle into their seats for dialogue scenes and the glossy sheen of commercial Hollywood films return.  Still, there's no substitute for the real deal the Farrellys achieved by getting 37,000 fans to stay AFTER an overtime ACLU game for the climatic scene of Lindsay running across Fenway's field or their off the cuff work with the Fox News team to get shots of their stars on the field after the series win in St. Louis.  We see Stephen King throw Fenway's opening day ball and players Johnny Damon, Jason Varitek and Trot Nixon all appear as themselves off the field (as well as on).

The script is a natural mix of romance and comedy with a smattering of Farrelly-style gross-out and doggie humor.  Relationship values are explored a bit more head-on than is the norm for such fare, particularly the stigma of female earning power exceeding the male's.  Ben's buddy bonding provides some of the film's funniest bits, like a group intervention over repeated viewings of 'the Bruckner tape,' while most of the vomit and snot stuff (and a recycling of Jim Carrey's squinty eyes, puckery mouth 'compliment' to Zellweger) is relegated to the romance.  Lindsay and her perfectly balanced group of three girlfriends get shots at slapstick and violence while Ben makes his trio dance for choice seats.  The history of the curse of the Bambino is run down on Lindsay's first trip to the ballpark while also providing background for the uninitiated in the audience.

Unlike the 2004 baseball season, the ending of "Fever Pitch" is never in any doubt, but at least the filmmakers make the effort to examine some of the real life issues which drive wedges into relationships.  Fallon's a second stringer to Barrymore's big leagues, but "Fever Pitch" is still a winner.


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