It’s hard not to like a movie that manages to work Hurricane Smith’s obscure but classic ’70s pop song, “Oh, Babe, What Would You Say?”, into its soundtrack, so it’s a relief to report that there are a lot of other things about Fever Pitch that are hard not to like.
When compared to Shallow Hal and Stuck on You, the film is definitely a step down for the Farrelly Brothers as unique filmmakers in their own right, but it does continue to explore and expand upon the more serious and mature thematic concerns of those films, and does so in a not dissimilar manner.
Yes, this is a more normal (one is tempted to say ordinary) film, which is probably the result of the screenplay by the very normal — and very, very Hollywoodized — Babaloo Mandell and Lowell Ganz, who have concocted such mainstream midcult confections as Parenthood and A League of Their Own. (Adventurous, these boys are not.)
As a result, Fever Pitch is more work-for-hire than a bona fide Farrelly Brothers picture. But as such, it’s pretty good work-for-hire, and their fingerprints are still all over it. For example, there’s the distinguished use of often very undistinguished pop music and the proliferation of peculiar supporting characters (even if these characters are here limited to the film’s more rabid Boston Red Sox fans – that is, the ones who aren’t the movie’s romantic lead).
The screenplay is an Americanization of Nick Hornby’s book about a soccer fanatic, and while this adaptation is wholly workable, it perhaps results in a film that tries a little too hard on specifics. Unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool baseball fanatic, parts of the film verge on the incomprehensible, while some of the minutiae is completely lost.
The unfortunate thing about this is that the broader strokes of Fever Pitch are perfectly applicable to anyone who has ever been so passionate about something that a kind of minor insanity causes them to hurt the people in their lives without realizing it. You could substitute any other interest for baseball — another sport, a rock band, a film series, an actor, a director, you name it — and the story wouldn’t lose its relevance.
That’s precisely why the story translates from soccer to baseball so easily. But the script tends to lose sight of this element by focusing too much on baseball in general and the Red Sox in particular. A degree of specificity is necessary, of course, but it shouldn’t chip away at the universal nature of the overriding theme. The upshot of all this is a nice little romantic comedy that, while sometimes maddening because of all the baseball esoterica, also flirts with a more significant theme.
As a romantic comedy, the movie is undeniably engaging. Drew Barrymore, who plays an upscale professional who falls for Jimmy Fallon’s much more downscale school teacher/baseball fanatic, has rarely been this good. She’s funny, warm and quite believable. Fallon isn’t exactly a revelation, but his performance is certainly more winning than the one he gave in the car wreck of a movie that was Taxi. The very fact that you don’t hope a steamroller backs over him every few minutes is a major advancement. (OK, so I had a fleeting desire for such during one scene.) And the two actors have a nice onscreen chemistry, which makes them likable throughout the film.
On these terms, the worst thing about Fever Pitch is that it doesn’t really support its more than two hours of running time. The movie never quite outlives its welcome, but by the end, it comes perilously close. Rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, and some sensuality.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke