by Jay Seaver
I can't exactly be rational about this movie. I feel like it intersects with my life, and not just because part of the movie was filmed after a game I attended (when the announcement that we could all stay to be extras came over the Public Address system, I commented to my brother that they just sold thirty thousand DVDs). The Red Sox winning the World Series was, if you haven't heard, a Big Thing in New England, and the shared euphoria afterward is powerful stuff for a movie to tap into, especially considering how fresh it still is.So, understand, it may take a couple of years for me to be able to look at Fever Pitch and say how the movie itself makes me feel, and how it works. The delight I felt coming out of the movie is due, at least in part, to remembering my own October 2004 emotional roller coaster.
"THE RED SOX WIN THE WORLD SERIES!!! Oh, and some romantic comedy stuff."
You don't have to be a dedicated fan of the Red Sox or baseball in general to identify with Jimmy Fallon's Ben in Fever Pitch. You just have to be a fan of something. I love the Red Sox, but it's my walls covered with DVDs and movie collectibles that has intimidated prospective roommates in the past, and I'm more apt to peek at the schedule for the Brattle Theater than the Red Sox when someone asks if I'm free on a certain night. If any of that sounds familiar, either in your own behavior or that of someone close to you, you've got a point of entry into this story, whether you identify with Ben or Drew Barrymore's Lindsey.
The story itself is elegantly uncomplicated. High-school math teacher Ben brings students to meet someone who uses advanced math in her daily life, which turns out to be Lindsey. Sparks fly, and things go well during the winter. When March comes, though, Lindsey's not prepared for how tight a grip fandom has on Ben. At first it seems romantic that he gives himself over to something outside of himself, but the reality isn't as nice as the idea, and jealousy slowly sets in. Ben is, as men can be, a little slow on the uptake when it comes to why or how he hurt her feelings when he certainly didn't intend to do so.
And that's it, really. Screenwriters Loewll Ganz and Babaloo Mandel could have given their characters serious romantic rivals, but even if there is a character who is presented as a potential non-Ben boyfriend for Lindsey, the directors (Peter & Bobby Farrelly) don't push it too hard. They recognize that having Ben & Lindsey stay together because the other guy is really a creep would be a cheat, while having Lindsey just toss him to the side despite there not being anything wrong with him isn't satisfying either. The movie's about how a relationship between these two kinds of people works. Even the baseball montages really don't deviate from that; if you look at the team as a third side of a triangle, then watching the team playing its season is a reasonable complement to Ben and Lindsey living their lives.
Ben and Linsdey are likable characters, but aside from Ben's fandom, they aren't exactly possessed of inherently funny characteristics. With a few notable exceptions, this is the most normal-people-filled movie the Farrellys have ever done, and a lot of the broad, I-can't-believe-that-they-made-a-joke-about-that humor that they're noted for is, as such, absent. Not completely, and it's still a funny movie; just with fewer truly outrageous jokes. But, then, the brothers' schtick has always been that their weird or handicapped characters have the same hopes and dreams as their more conventional brethren, and the real affection they have for their characters (at least in their good movies) comes through.
It helps that Ben and Lindsey look like regular people, too. Jimmy Fallon is skinny and kind of scruffy-looking, and makes Ben a guy who, if you met him, would strike you as kind of a dork but with a good heart. In the first act, before we see his Sox obsession, we see him being nice, but describing why Lindsey is attracted to him never gets farther than "well, he's not the Type A guy she normally dates". Fallon just doesn't seem to have the raw charisma his co-star does, although she has enough to make up for it.
When you get right down to it, there's not a whole lot more to Lindsey's character. She works more hours than is healthy and spends what seems like the rest of her time in the gym, but is likable in part because she clearly recognizes that there's more to life than getting ahead. She's ambitious, but not mean about it, and has the good grace to feel bad immediately when she does something that someone else might only regret in hindsight. She's also cute without looking like she's fresh out of the model factory. It's not hard to pull for her at all.
I'm curious how some scenes play outside of Red Sox Nation. No prior knowledge is necessary to understand the plot, but it does help the atmosphere. A midsummer montage set to Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline" put a big, stupid grin on my face, but that song's a Fenway Park tradition. And mere words can't really get across what being a Red Sox fan was like for most of the twentieth century. There's an early scene that tries to explain it to Lindsey (and, by extension, the audience), and it gets the facts across okay, but feels hollow. Of course, I was annoyed that they went the lazy route of using "The Curse of the Bambino" to link Sox history together. That the Sox sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees so that the owner could finance No No Nanette makes good folklore but isn't true; it's the creation of a writer every bit as much a miserable hack as the quote whores who are regularly roasted on this site, and it vexes me that a movie that otherwise gets Red Sox fandom so right will help perpetuate that myth. Fortunately, that's early, and the movie also serves up "Tessie", "Sweet Caroline", the dramatic American League Championship Series and the joyous finale to the World Series. And, yeah, I teared up a little during the last shots, of the amphibious victory parade I attended with two million people who, that day, really did feel like my closest friends.Maybe it's telling that my strongest emotional reaction was to the baseball scenes, or maybe it says more about me than the movie. I don't really care - I just know that the movie worked. Maybe better for us Red Sox fans than the rest of the world, sure, but the themes are universal enough even if the details aren't.
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=11921&reviewer=371
originally posted: 04/15/05 09:07:09