Friday, April 22, 2005

Fever Pitch / ***½ (PG-13)

Lindsey Meeks: Drew Barrymore
Ben: Jimmy Fallon
Doug Meeks: James B. Sikking
Maureen Meeks: Jo Beth Williams
Molly: Ione Skye
Robin: KaDee Strickland
Sarah: Marissa Jaret Winkor
Kevin: Willie Garson
Gerard: Armando Riesco
Steve: Zen Gesner

Twentieth Century Fox presents a film directed by Bobby Farrelly and Peter Farrelly. Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. Based on the book by Nick Hornby. Running time: 98 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for crude and sexual humor, and some sensuality).

This past weekend I had the particular pleasure of taking my son to the veritable hell on earth Chuck E. Cheese’s. That is really a story for another forum, but during our dining experience Jack’s Pop, my Dad, noticed a guy wearing a Plaxico Burress Pittsburgh Steelers jersey. He quickly pointed out that this particular jersey was now meaningless, since no more than a few days ago Burress was traded to the New York Football Giants. He knew this from reading the Giants Website. This is a man who cannot program the clock on his VCR and doesn’t know how to delete his e-mail, but he can surf the net just well enough to feed his fandom. And I myself was very excited at the prospect of the Giants actually spending some money on a bankable receiver. Such is the mindset of the sports fanatic.

Fever Pitch, the new romantic comedy by the Farrelly brothers, is pitch perfect at capturing the sports fan mentality. It isn’t too bad at putting together a more than decent modern day romance, either; one that deals with the sacrifices necessary in a relationship built around our culture of self-satisfaction and career success above all else. It expresses the romance with understatement and the fanaticism with what might be deemed from those who aren’t familiar with a true sports fan as absurd exaggeration, giving the familiar love story structure a ring of authentication.

Ben, perfectly played by former Saturday Night Live cast member Jimmy Fallon, is in the film’s own words, “the most pathetic creature in the world: a Boston Red Sox fan.” Sadly, but to the film’s advantage, this is a label that can be stuck on any franchise fan of any sport at some time or another. It is also a label that currently does not apply to the Red Sox fan, a fact dealt with in footage from and scenes re-written around last year’s ALCS Championship series and World Series. But the story begins before those historic games came to pass, when Ben’s undying love for his perennial losing team… make that obsession… has kept him on the singles market far past his due date considering what a good natured and charming fellow he is.

Drew Barrymore (Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle) plays Lindsey, an up and coming corporate player who can’t seem to hang onto any of her men because she only dates men who are up and coming corporate players. After she is urged by her friends to pursue someone who is her opposite, she begins seeing Ben, and it seems as if it is a match made in heaven -- that is until April arrives and it is time for Ben to devote all of his time and energy to the Red Sox.

What I really liked about this film was that it didn’t treat its couple like people who only existed to fall in love with each other. These are two complex characters that are not oblivious to their own weaknesses and strengths. They put thought into their actions and decisions rather than merely acting on the whims of the plot. Oddly enough that plot is filled with romance clichés, like a breakup and miscommunications. The biggest misunderstanding has to do with the way Ben reacts to some news from Lindsey. His initial response isn’t good, but he realizes his mistake right away and tries to make it right, but his first reaction has already changed Lindsey’s perspective of their relationship and although she understands why he reacted poorly and that he truly wants to do what is right, she can’t deny how her feelings have already been altered. I put this vaguely in order that I shouldn’t give anything away, but the important part of this argument is that they act like people who have already placed some commitment into their relationship and don’t just blindly react to their misunderstanding to serve the plot.

I laughed a great deal during this picture, but it would be hard to describe where most of these laughs came from, since I didn’t have my notebook on me and didn’t get a chance to write down any of the script’s many brilliant lines of dialogue, provided by the long time life comedy screenwriting team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (Robots). What really sets this movie apart from most romantic comedies, and sets it continents away from the broad gross-out humor of most of the Farrelly brothers’ (There’s Something About Mary) other work, is that it does not depend on physical and visual comedy to keep its lighthearted touch sustained throughout. Most of its comedy comes from the characters and their own intelligence. That is not to say this is a film where two smart and charming people spend two hours wooing each other with smart and charming witticisms. No, they fumble and get tongue tied like anyone, but the fact that they are smart and charming to boot makes that funny.

Jimmy Fallon can just quit now. It is too bad for him that it happened so early in his career, but he has played his perfect role in this performance. He is the perfect embodiment of the sport fanatic. He’s a squirrelly little nice guy. He makes it easy to see why someone would fall for him. No one so genuine could also do such a good job conveying that inane devotion to a sport or team that does nothing more than provide him with vicarious ups and downs. And he can act too. Unlike other SNLers, whose careers exist primarily to capitalize on the quirky characters they created on that show before everyone gets too sick of them (which, incidentally, usually only takes one film), many people may not realize that Fallon has already been out there and hasn’t stuck just to comedy. He was the band manager in Almost Famous. Did I just blow your mind? Well, probably not all of you, but someone just said, “Really? That was him? I’m gonna have to check that one out again.” And you should, but back to this one. Fallon really got me when he first goes to get Lindsey back after their breakup. He has those almost tearing eyes and a slight waver in the voice and I could just remember that feeling of trying to salvage and unsalvageable relationship. “You had me at ‘Hello’”? Yeah, right! This is what it feels like when you aren’t Tom Cruise.

Barrymore has shown an incredible knack for choosing great material for her and her production company, which produced this movie from a Nick Hornby novel of the same name, but not the same sport. The filmmakers did a wonderful job transferring that book from Britain to America and the sport from football (soccer for us American blokes) to baseball. It is only a shame they didn’t make it American football. Then the most pathetic creature on the planet could have been a New York Football Giants fan. Unfortunately, these days the label fits us oh so much better than it does Red Sox fans, and I’ve already started my own son down the dark lonesome road of fanaticism.

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