Saturday Night Live alumnus Jimmy Fallon assumes the role of the sports-obsessed fan, Ben Wrightman, a math teacher and lifelong fan of the no-longer also-rans, the Boston Red Sox. Pushing thirty, Ben's romantic life has always taken second place to his sports obsession. Due to a late uncle's will, Ben has valuable season tickets to Red Sox home games. Before the season starts, Ben holds a meeting with his friends, bullhorn in hand, and oversized calendar in the background, to “fairly” determine who will accompany him to the home games. In one of the funnier gags, Ben converts his friends' desire for the tickets into a dance contest.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves here. Ben isn't revealed as a sports-obsessed fan until the second act, when the winter season turns into spring. The first act in Fever Pitch follows the usual trajectory of romantic comedies, with Ben, a math teacher, and Lindsay Meeks (Drew Barrymore), a high-powered corporate executive, meeting “cute” (actually a tour of her office with several of his brighter math students). Ben and Lindsay are typically mismatched. He's laid back, happy with his life as a math teacher, and Lindsay is consumed with her career (her position is never clearly explained, except that it involves mathematics, and Lindsay's success has led to a management position, complete with a private office).
The first obstacles to their relationship, only superficially explored, are connected to the differences in their respective social status (and money, since Lindsay obviously makes more than Ben does). Also typical of recent romantic comedies, Lindsay is conflicted between the demands of her career and her desire for domesticity (i.e., marriage and domesticity). These obstacles, however, last only as long as necessary to carry the timeline into the spring, when Ben's obsession, his transformation from what Lindsay calls Winter Guy to Summer Guy, is complete.
Fever Pitch subsequently covers familiar ground, with Lindsay and Ben agreeing to some accommodation with his sports obsession, until, of course, tensions rise and break, with Lindsay declaring her dissatisfaction with their arrangement. Ben is forced to choose between his lifelong obsession and domestic bliss with Lindsay (in a fit of anger and frustration, Lindsay calls Ben, appropriately, a “man-boy”). Ben makes a choice, then unmakes the choice, then attempts to remake his first choice, with Lindsay as the prize (and his entry into a mature relationship). Lindsay, for her part, also has a choice, whether to accept Ben as is, or compel him, for her own happiness, into choosing her over the Boston Red Sox. She, of course, begins to doubt the “rightness” of her choices and demands, which leads to the climax at Fenway Stadium, the home of the Boston Red Sox. Since we're in romantic comedy territory here, the denouement should come as no surprise to most audiences.
Comedy wise, fans expecting the Farrelly Brothers gross-out humor will be disappointed (with the exception of our gag early in the first act, that functions as proof of Ben's Mr. Sensitivity bona fides). Even more damaging, scenes involving jokes suffer from far too many awkward or lengthy pauses, undercutting punchlines that, in other hands, might have obtained deeper laughs from the audience (some of the blame, of course, belongs to the screenwriters). Given the Farrelly Brothers' track record, it's surprising that, among its other problems (i.e., predictability, stale jokes, missed opportunities for humor, etc.), Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore display a lack of rapport and comic timing in Fever Pitch, especially in the early scenes, that makes the increasing complications in their romantic relationship less than compelling.
One related point is worth mentioning here. Before the Red Sex won the World Series last year, beating the New York Yankees in a dramatic, come-from-behind playoff series, and sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, the Red Sox and their fans had experienced 86 years of frustration and futility, coming close, but always failing, to win the World Series, or losing to their hated rivals, the New York Yankees, in the playoffs. Fever Pitch went into production before the Red Sox ended their 86-year losing streak, which necessitated re-shoots to cover the newly resurgent Red Sox. With recent baseball history still in mind, the obsessive, egocentric behavior on display in Fever Pitch rings false. The Boston Red Sox are no longer the standard bearers of the “lovable losers,” teams and fans alike, which, under different circumstances, tends to elicit some measure of sympathy or empathy from non-fans. Ultimately, the success of the Red Sox last year makes Fever Pitch feel like a film made and released one year too late.
© Mel Valentin, 6th April, 2005
What do you think of Fever Pitch
Share your opinions on our forum