Director : Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly
Screenplay : Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel (based on the novel by Nick Hornby)
MPAA Rating : PG-13
Year of Release : 2005
Stars : Drew Barrymore (Lindsey Meeks), Jimmy Fallon (Ben), Jack Kehler (Al), Scott H. Severance (Artie), Jessamy R. Finet (Theresa), Maureen Keiller (Viv), Lenny Clarke (Uncle Carl), Ione Skye (Molly), KaDee Strickland (Robin), Marissa Jaret Winokur (Sarah), Evan Helmuth (Troy)
When you boil it down, the only fundamental difference between a passion and an obsession is social acceptability. When something is deemed socially worthy -- say, getting ahead in one’s career -- then arguably obsessive behaviors like staying late at the office, thinking constantly about work, and so forth is considered “normal.” However, when the object of one’s incessant attention is deemed socially unworthy -- say, Star Wars fanaticism -- then behaviors like adults collecting children’s toys and standing in line for days (or weeks, or even months) on end to get the first ticket is “abnormal.” Ah, such a fine line.
Fever Pitch plays with that line in its romantic triangle about a boy, a girl, and the Boston Red Sox. Ben (Jimmy Fallon), a ninth-grade math teacher, is a diehard Red Sox fan. He has gone to all the games since he was 7 years old and sat in the same seats behind the dugout left to him by uncle. His passion for his team is displayed in his bedroom, in which everything from towels, to clocks, to his bedsheets is branded with the Red Sox logo. There is something profoundly, almost disturbingly adolescent in this behavior, but at the same time, it’s strangely admirable in its purity. Screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (Robots), working loosely from Nick Hornsby’s autobiographical novel about his obsession with soccer, portray Ben’s love of the Sox as a rare kind of dedication, a passionate attachment that is largely lacking in today’s fast-paced, quick-fix world.
When Ben meets Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore), a career-oriented young women who’s “about to turn 20-10” and has yet to meet a man who fits into her life, he is immediately smitten. There is a cute-gross scene in which their first date is railroaded by Lindsey’s having food poisoning, and Ben displays his wellspring of dedication by taking care of her. Lindsey is attracted to Ben because he’s so unlike all the other men she’s dated, who have basically been male versions of herself -- career-driven, dedicated, and demanding. Ben, on the other hand, is a schoolteacher, thus he’s not in a profession just for the money, and he’s so low-key and amiable that he doesn’t even bother owning a cell phone. He always has a joke or a wisecrack to make, and one of the realistic little touches the movie has is the fact that not all of his cracks are meant to work, which humanizes him and keeps Fallon from being just another Saturday Night Live comedian-turned-actor doing his shtick on the big screen.
It just so happens that, when Lindsey and Ben start dating, it is winter, thus there is no competition with the Red Sox. However, once spring arrives and Ben forgoes a trip to meet Lindsey’s parents in order to fly to Florida to watch spring training, the conflict begins a steady simmer. Lindsey tries to accommodate Ben’s fanaticism by learning about the sport and going with him to the games, even when it means leaving work early and possibly missing out on a promotion. You can sense, though, that she can only do this for so long, and at some point she is going to need Ben to show the same passionate dedication to her that he shows to his team.
Barrymore and Fallon strike a unique chord with each other and generate an utterly believable chemistry. Directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly (There’s Something About Mary) dial down their trademark gross-outlandishness and concentrate on the human sweetness that has always underlined their best films. The script is one of the better efforts by Ganz and Mandel (probably because of the high-quality source material), particularly in the way they closely observe the small details of character that sell the story. When one of Lindsey’s friends replies to the observation that Ben isn’t married yet because he hasn’t met the right woman by saying “Well, then he should be with the wrong woman by now,” it’s a bracingly funny revelation of the highly competitive nature of courtship and the social pressures to settle down after a certain age.
Thus, Fever Pitch really works because, despite being immensely enjoyable as a romantic comedy, it cuts deep to the heart of modern romance. While Ben’s Red Sox obsession and its toll on his relationship with Lindsey is an exaggerated (though hardly unbelievable) example, it works as a fitting allegory for all those things in modern life that compete for the time and energy needed to sustain a relationship. Every character in Fever Pitch has a passion/obsession of his or her own (including Lindsey’s parents, who obsess over their golf game), and they only vary in terms of intensity and social acceptability. Lindsey’s career-driven aspirations are their own form of obsession, and they can pose just as many dangers to her social life as Ben’s baseball fandom.
Ultimately, though, Fever Pitch is about Ben’s need to grow up (which keeps it right in line with Hornby’s other novels, High Fidelity and About a Boy, both of which have been made into very good movies). However, this growing up doesn’t necessarily involve trading in his love of the Red Sox for the love of a good woman, but it does hinge on his realization that true love is the kind that is returned, something a baseball team can never do.
Copyright ©2005 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright ©2005 20th Century Fox