Boston Red Sox fans all across the country last year witnessed something that most probably never dreamed would have happened in their lifetimes — their beloved team, said to be cursed for nearly 90 years, finally won the World Series.
These die-hard fans are “one of God’s most pathetic creatures,” or so says the beginning narration of “Fever Pitch,” a romantic comedy that takes place during this unforgettable time period, directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly.
And “pathetic” certainly seems a fitting word to describe Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon), the most obsessed fan ever, whose apartment, as the movie so blatantly points out, resembles the Red Sox gift shop. He loves his Sox more than life itself, and so finding a woman has become difficult for him until he happens upon Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore).
Too often Fallon seems to rely on his over-the-top quirkiness from his “Saturday Night Live” days. But what may work well for late-night sketch comedy does not do well in what is supposed to be a believable romantic comedy.
He brandishes an invisible knife (in what is probably meant to be an homage to “Psycho”) to indicate the cutthroat competition of Lindsey’s business, a job that is only loosely described as something to do with numbers. He makes a silly Jimmy Stewart impression. He shouts and sings to himself loudly while dining in a fancy establishment with the Meeks family so as not to hear the results of a game he is taping at home. He jumps wildly and screams on national television. These moments do more to make the character irritating, rather than endearing.
Thankfully, Barrymore gives a more subdued performance. Her looks of surprise, amusement and tenderness reveal what her character thinks about each moment. And overall, her confusion about the feelings she has for this overly-zealous Sox fan shines through.
Unfortunately, this unbalance between the actors makes the characters’ chemistry appear forced. The relationship, as a whole, seems completely unbelievable. At one point, a foul ball hits Meeks in the head and knocks her unconscious and Wrightman ignores his injured girlfriend to high-five the fan who ended up with the prized ball. It’s hard to believe any woman would stay with a man after that, let alone someone as independent and as picky about men as Meeks is supposed to be. But since “Fever Pitch” is a silly romantic comedy, the audience is not supposed to question it.
At one point, Meeks does tell her boyfriend, “It’s good for your soul to invest in something out of your control.” Apparently, Meeks thinks such dedication and devotion from him will eventually go toward her. So, she sticks with him and starts to become something of a fan herself. One of her friends even tells her she’s becoming “colonized,” as she’s allowing his culture to take over her own. It seems the screenwriters, Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, found a way to pepper post-colonial theory into the script.
Ganz and Mandel’s script is loosely based on Nick Hornby’s autobiographical book of the same name. Hornby’s book deals with his own obsession with soccer though, not baseball.
Unfortunately, the writers try too hard to be funny at times, throwing in puke jokes in a first date scene that only serves to cheapen the comedy.
But the story still touches on intriguing topics at times, such as Meeks adopting the Red Sox culture. Conversations about the sacrifices we make for our significant others and the love we have for things bigger than ourselves bring a much needed humanity to this film. It’s at these moments that the characters become real and maybe even lovable, or at least likable and funny.
When Wrightman’s season tickets first arrive and he and his friends go first through the annual ritual of opening the box and, later, dividing out the days, some laugh-out-loud moments present themselves. The season ticket holders who sit near Wrightman at the ballpark also add a humorous flavor to the film, showing the desperation, dedication and devastation of these truest of fans.
In fact, the film’s best moments appear at the stadium, as the audience can start to relive tense and terrific moments. The Red Sox were down 3 games to the New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series, one game away from elimination and facing the bitter reality of the curse yet again, when the unimaginable happens. But everybody knows that story, the film’s narrator says, as “Fever Pitch” quickly recaps in short snippet cutaways of the games, suggesting that the filmmakers had some rewriting and reworking to do on the movie since the unexpected had indeed occurred.
But nothing beats the reality of those magical moments. And “Fever Pitch,” while it may make a worthy attempt, cannot capture the true spirit — whether you call it pathetic, loyal or pathetically loyal — of a genuine fan of the once cursed Boston Red Sox.