It took over three months, but, finally, here is a wide-release, mass-appeal studio picture that audiences can really rally behind while having both their minds and hearts satiated. Loosely based on the novel by Nick Hornby and adapted once before in the UK in 1997, the Americanized "Fever Pitch" is a swooning love letter to not only the Boston Red Sox, but baseball in general, and not only baseball, but also true, unadulterated love itself. It is a romantic comedy that transcends the oft-traveled genre formula by actually being about something more than the usual boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back cliche. And for directors Bobby and Peter Farrelly, who have made their share of fine recent pictures (2000's "Me, Myself & Irene
," 2001's "Shallow Hal
," 2003's "Stuck on You
"), this is a huge step toward growing up as filmmakers. No longer using plot gimmicks (i.e. multiple personality disorder, conjoined twins, et. al.) to forward their comic inspiration, they have nothing to fall back on but a smart script and the tingly, wondrous chemistry between its two central stars.
Unlike her three married friends, Lindsay Meeks (Drew Barrymore) has begun to stress out about turning 30 because, although her business career has taken off, she hasn't been nearly successful in the romance department. This changes when she meets math teacher Ben (Jimmy Fallon), a fun-loving, gentle soul who completely wins her over by taking care of her when she gets sick even before their first date has begun. Ben puts Lindsay up on a pedestal, as if she is the most wonderful gal in the whole world, and Lindsay can't help but be smitten. Their budding relationship takes a sharp turn, however, when baseball season begins. Lindsay knows that Ben is a fan of the well-loved, perpetually losing Boston Red Sox, but she has no way of guessing just how die-hard he is. Suddenly, their time together is dictated by when the Red Sox are playing, and Lindsay begins to wonder if she can accept coming second in Ben's life seven months out of the year.
Written with a sure, knowing hand by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (2005's "Robots
"), who manage to zero in on the exact feeling one gets when they have a serious hobby bordering on obsession, "Fever Pitch" is two exuberantly winning love stories in one. The first and most obvious is that between Ben and Lindsay, two totally different people who happen to be exactly right for one another. Their initial courting and the proceeding elements that make up any serious romantic relationship are captured with the most gentle and honest of hands by the Farrelly brothers. It is in the details of this assured human connection that ring with resounding truth, as in a scene where Ben tells Lindsay all of the things he loves about hereven if it means calling attention to her physical quirks. On a more grand scale, what is so touching about these two people is the way Lindsay jumps into making an attempt to learn about and support Ben's passion of baseball, rather than viewing him as childish. Conflicts inevitably arrive when things get too trying for her as she attempts to compete against his first love, but these developments arrive naturally and thoughtfully, as opposed to showing up as a flimsy, condescending necessity of the script.
As previously mentioned, the second love story found in "Fever Pitch" is the one between Ben and his baseball team. Without falling into the trap of more typical sports movies, "Fever Pitch" so persuasively personifies what it is like to love something as much as Ben loves the Red Sox that all the viewer can do is nod in acknowledgment. His obsession, while sometimes leading him down a decidedly selfish path, is not judged or looked upon as unhealthy; it is just one of Ben's idiosyncrasies that shape who he is as a person. It is in Lindsay's road toward making this discovery and learning how to happily coexist in Ben's life during the summer months that gives the picture its unforeseen depth beyond the countless forgettable cookie-cutter romances seen every year.
Jimmy Fallon, most well-known for his stint on "Saturday Night Live," comes into his own here as a solid, charismatic film actor after a disposable turn in 2004's "Taxi
." Fallon is so innately lovable and identifiable as Ben that even his sheer baseball fanaticism comes off as charming. He also proves to be a superior romantic lead in that he feels like a real and genuine person, rather than some chiseled, idealistic Hollywood hunk. Fallon shares a similar lightning-in-a-bottle magic with Drew Barrymore as her past chemistry with Adam Sandler in 1998's "The Wedding Singer" and 2004's "50 First Dates
." As the career-minded, starved-for-love Lindsay, Barrymore is first-rate. She has brilliant comic timingfor proof, look no further than her hilarious sickbed sequence and another in which her face gets in the way of a baseball hitbut also a worldly intuition that blesses each of her film roles with a grounded allure and realism. She's so adorable without trying to be that one can't help but want to hug her. The supporting actors all do what they are supposed toIone Skye (1999's "Mascara
" and perhaps best known for 1989's "Say Anything") makes a welcome return to the screen as one of Lindsay's friendsbut are wise to not get in the way of the two leads. This is Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore's movie all the way, and for good reason.
Forget "Major League." Forget "The Rookie
." Forget "Mr. 3000
." For someone like myself, who is not even a baseball fan, "Fever Pitch" does an infinitely better job than those other films of explaining and visualizing what it is that so many people adore about the sport. By the time it was over, I was ready to travel to Boston and attend a Sox game at Fenway Park myself. Aiding in the immediacy of its plot, which is primarily set during a single March-through-October baseball season, the movie was shot on-location in Boston and during actual Red Sox games, including two key climactic moments that take place at a play-off game and the amazing upset of a World Series. Likewise, the soundtrack, as in all of the Farrelly brothers efforts, is buoyant, memorable, and zippy. Its only downside being a too-short running time (so entertaining is it that it could have effortlessly gone on another half-hour), "Fever Pitch" is the most consistently funny motion picture of the year so far, and also its sweetest. Once over, audiences won't so much walk out of the theater as they will float out.