For Love of the Game

The Farrelly brothers swing straight and hit the sweet spot

Last year, the Simmons family of Needham, Mass., just outside Boston, sent Christmas cards for the first time in more than 20 years. "We send out Xmas cards about as often as the Red Sox win the World Series," the card very cleverly proclaimed. This movie is for them.

In truth, Fever Pitch is for anybody -- with the likely exception of Yankees fans -- who wants to see a sweet, ingratiating romantic comedy that asks that age-old question ... no, not can a man love two women at the same time, but can he love a woman as much as he does his favorite sports team? And can a woman put up with a man who morphs into a raging lunatic six months out of the year?

Although the movie is based on Nick Hornby's semi-autobiographical novel about a British man torn between soccer and romance (a 1996 British film, starring Colin Firth, similarly revolved around the protagonist's beloved Arsenal FC), anybody who has ever lived in Boston will know that the depiction of obsessed fans is no exaggeration. They eat, drink, walk, talk, and sleep Red Sox.

Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly (There's Something About Mary and Me, Myself and Irene), this incarnation stars Saturday Night Live alum Jimmy Fallon as high school math teacher Ben Wrightman, who takes his honors geometry class on a field trip and meets successful corporate consultant Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore, looking svelte and sexy). She thinks he's cute and funny, but when he asks her out she hesitates, snobbish about his lowly job.

Ben shows up at her apartment for their first date to find Lindsey violently sick to her stomach. He not only cleans her up and deodorizes the bathroom, but also brushes the dog's teeth. How can she not love a guy like that? The romance picks up steam; the only question she and her friends have is: How is this great guy still single?

When spring rolls around, Lindsey discovers the reason: Ben is a die-hard Red Sox fan, and no woman has ever been able to compete with them -- nor been willing, ultimately, to put up with his passion for the team. Lindsey can live with the Red Sox bedsheets, towels, posters, and memorabilia, but when Ben chooses spring training in Florida over meeting her parents, then rejects a romantic weekend in Paris rather than miss a game, she starts to reassess their relationship.

Adorable is more likely what you'd expect of Barrymore, but Fallon proves just as sweetly ingratiating here. The two play well off of each other, which makes their lack of sexual chemistry especially noticeable. Fever Pitch has earned a PG-13 rating, but, despite a few quick kisses, there is a chasteness to the story and characters that seems almost unrealistic.

Of course, the Farrelly brothers have never been known for their sophistication, romantic or otherwise. Perhaps it's more the absence of politically incorrect and sophomoric humor that makes Fever Pitch feel unexpectedly wholesome. It is certainly the least juvenile, least crude film they've ever made, though a certain sweetness is typical of their work.

Another consideration might be that both Barrymore and Fallon are best known for their comedy roles. While Barrymore has done some nice work in more adult fare (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and Donnie Darko), her screen image is still that of a kind of goofy, ingenuous kid. That's what audiences relate to in her, and she certainly delivers here.

While the two characters get pretty much equal story and screen time, Fever Pitch is really more about Ben than Lindsey. That's not surprising, given that the Farrellys' previous outings have all focused on wacky or immature males, caught between the irresponsibility and fun of childhood and the inevitable transition to adulthood.

Not even the Farrelly brothers, however, could have predicted that the year they decided to make Fever Pitch would be the year the Red Sox would banish the Curse of the Bambino, winning the World Series for the first time since 1918. Expecting that the Sox would once again break their hearts, the filmmakers had already written a losing season into the script. When the Sox not only beat the Yankees in the playoffs but then swept the Cardinals in the Series, the end of Fever Pitch was rewritten and reshot. Nobody in Boston was complaining.

 
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