When is a baseball movie not really about baseball? And when is a Farrelly Brothers movie not really a Farrelly Brothers movie? The answer can be found in the new romantic comedy Fever Pitch – a story of love, life and well, baseball.
Since the Farrelly Brothers have become synonymous with crudeness, it’s hard not to imagine a scene with a phlegmy spitball pitcher or someone wearing a jockstrap slathered in IcyHot. But the surprise is that instead of the typical trademark Farrelly gross-outs, the brothers succeed in presenting a wholesome sentimental romance.
Based on the novel by Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch was adapted from by the revered writing team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, who know a thing or two about romance (Splash, 1984) and baseball (A League of Their Own, 1992). Drew Barrymore, one of the screen’s brightest and most adorable romantic comediennes, stars with Jimmy Fallon, the latest engaging and charismatic gent of Saturday Night Live veterans. What is also refreshing about Fever Pitch is the Farrellys have truly embraced a smart story and directed it in such a way that feels comfortable; the characters are people we know.
Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon) is your normal nice guy, a math teacher who treats his students well and feels comfortable with his shirt untucked. On a field trip, he meets Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore), a numbers-happy workaholic with high-priced tastes and sweet-faced looks to boot. After some stumbling awkwardness, Ben asks Lindsey on a date, and she says yes.
The first date doesn’t go quite as well as expected yet Ben is the perfect gentleman. Sure enough, the relationship slowly grows into something more meaningful. But Ben – well, he’s got a secret. There is another love in his life. Ben is a thirty year old guy who caught baseball fever as a boy when his uncle treated him to a game at the hallowed home of the Red Sox. Ben is now a ritualistic devotee of the beloved Beantown beaters. And just where do the Red Sox fit in his life? “I would have to say the Red Sox, then sex, and then breathing,” Ben exclaims gleefully. And on any given weekday, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing, only Ben is so much in love with his team that his living space is adorned with a myriad of Red Sox memorabilia. The man has a baseball mitt phone, for goodness sakes!
Lindsey takes a solid inventory of the situation: She’s in love with the guy she first met, Winter Guy – the guy you go on late afternoon walks with, the guy who takes care of you when you’re sick. But Summer Guy – Ben during baseball season – isn’t so attractive and has some definite issues, those of which are the heartbreaking kind.
Life, quite expectedly, turns a little chaotic, becomes full of conflict and doesn’t seem as great as once thought. So, are Ben and Lindsey eager to see it all work out or continue fussing about the problems? Ben, at a crucial moment of reaching clarity is posed the question, “You love the Red Sox, but have they ever loved you back?”
The film contains a clever underlying parallel. Somehow baseball is just like love. For example, staying with a team through thick or thin, even when there are expected letdowns. Love is just like that. And just like baseball, love can do things unexpectedly. The same can be said about Fever Pitch. Although it has a number of genuine laughs (a disturbing shower shaving scene; seeing Ben wallowing in Buffalo wings and a Buckner video), it has gut-wrenching chutzpah and compelling geniality as well. Plus, it draws on the championship season of the Boston Red Sox, which coincidentally marked the end of 86 years of endless hope and despair.
The Farrellys have managed to be patient and wait for the right opportunity to get a solid hit. They make a definite departure from the overplayed grossness of their earlier efforts, here pitting dedicated love against the objective love of baseball. Undeniably, Fever Pitch is an endearing pitch to the heart with just the precise amount of finesse and no errors.