This is one of those instances when being a critic is difficult. Some movies you love, some movies you hate – that’s simple. But what happens when you’re smack in the middle? You can see a film is flawed, but you enjoy it anyway… sort of. This has actually happened to me often, to various degrees, with the Farrelly brothers. They’re not particularly good directors and their flicks can be pretty dumb, yet almost all of them make me laugh a lot and occasionally even move me. Even their worst outing, Stuck on You, had its moments.
Their latest revolves around Ben (Jimmy Fallon), a child of divorce for whom the only thing that could cheer him up was going to Fenway Park with his Uncle Carl. This continues as he grows up and he becomes “one of God’s most pathetic creatures: a Red Sox fan”. As the movie begins, he becomes passionate about something else: lovely Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore). Things go smoothly enough, they’re having fun together, but Lindsey doesn’t know about Ben’s Doctor Jekyll and Mister Hyde split personality. She knows he’s a baseball fan, but she isn’t aware that he practically turns into a Green Monster when the season begins! “Winter guy” is a gentle, reasonable schoolteacher, but “summer guy” is an obsessed maniac who goes to every game and cares more about the team than about meeting his girlfriend’s parents or going away to Paris with her. Hint: women don’t care for that.
“Fever Pitch” is an adaptation of the novel by Nick Hornby, who has specialised in man-in-arrested-development-who-finally-grows-up stories. The Farrellys and screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandell have Americanized Hornby’s book, the same way High Fidelity moved the action from London to Chicago. So instead of football and the Arsenal, we get baseball and the Red Sox. I don’t know much about football and I haven’t read Hornby’s novel so I don’t know how this compares to the original material, but it’s interesting how through the locale-switch the movie explores things like the Curse of the Bambino. As you know, after trading Babe Ruth to the Yankees in 1919, the Sox never won another World Series. Ironically enough, while they were shooting “Fever Pitch” (often at actual games in Fenway Park), the Red Sox went into the greatest comeback in sports history!
This adds another layer to the film, but it’s ultimately not that important. This is most of all a romantic comedy, and you could switch the baseball thing with anything that holds a man back from fully committing to a relationship. This type of character gave Hugh Grant the best role of his career in “About a Boy” (another Hornby adapation), but it doesn’t pay off half as well here. Jimmy Fallon is definitely not leading man material. He coasted on cuteness and a propension to out-of-character giggle fits on Saturday Night Live and he’s able not to get in the way of a funny line, but this is not enough to carry a movie. Let’s not even get into his “dramatic” acting abilities – he’s got less emotional range than most trained monkeys.
It’s impossible for Drew Barrymore not to be charming, but that’s almost what happens here. Her character is a huge bore, the stereotypical career woman who’s all about her cellphone and her laptop, she wants to get that big promotion, etc. It doesn’t help that her key early scene revolves around vomit (off screen, thankfully), but she does get some amusing scenes with her girlfriends, one of which is played by the wonderful Ione Skye (what happened to her career, by the way? Why hasn’t she done anything noteworthy since Say Anything?)
Still, as mediocre as Barrymore and Fallon are in this movie, we wind up liking them anyway and rooting for them to get their happy ending. I honestly don’t understand how that works. “Fever Pitch” is clearly not a good film, it looks like junk, it’s erratically paced… Maybe that’s the Farrelly’s talent, to infuse so much heart and good humor in their work that they’re able to entertain in spite of all their flaws. I was feeling down today, but for a couple of hours my mood improved. I laughed quite often and I found the ending heart-warming, as predictable and corny as it is. “Fever Pitch” is no There’s Something About Mary or Shallow Hal, but there are worse ways to spend an evening.