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May 09, 2005

Fever Pitch

For The Love Of The Game
Farrelly Brothers Score With Baseball Romance
By Cole Smithey

503552fever-pitch-posters The Farrelly brothers ("There's Something About Mary") soften their customary inclination toward gross-out humor with an  earnest adaptation of a novel by Nick Hornby ("High Fidelity"). Avid sports fans will appreciate the all-engrossing passion that Ben (Jimmy Fallon) has for his local Boston Red Sox as he comes to realize that he must redirect some of that hardened loyalty to his newfound love Lindsey (Drew Barrymore). A school teacher by day, Ben lives for the annual baseball season when he can sit among his extended family at Fenway Park, and cheer for the team that's given his life meaning since he was 11 years-old. As much as Lindsey admires Ben's youthful dedication to baseball, she wants more to be valued by the man she loves. Jimmy Fallon finally shows his big screen "stuff" alongside the well-matched Drew Barrymore in a crowd-pleasing romance comedy that's rooted in a love of the game of baseball.

After a career misstep with Tim Story's miserable "Taxi" (2004), Jimmy Fallon corrects the predicament by taking on the mettle of a Boston man-boy who is funny in an instantaneous way that glosses self-deprecation with an accessible willingness to try harder. The thing that opens up Ben's horizon is his equally easygoing girlfriend Lindsey, a successful career woman who understands his need to be a part of something bigger.

Lindsey tells Ben, "You have a lyrical soul. You have the ability to love in the best and worst of times." It's a line of dialogue that carries all of the character elements of the movie, and gives a bookmark for the love affair that unfolds.

As with other Nick Hornby stories, "Fever Pitch" covers a long stretch of time, in this case a year. Tthe duration adds to developing a comfortable sense of who the characters are as people with friends, who want to live a meaningful existence. It's no accident that Hornby is a British writer, and that his stories reflect individuals who live in their skin rather than the inflated yet insecure personalities we typically see in American-penned Hollywood movies.

Just as Ben roots fervently for the baseball team he visits in Florida every year at Spring Training, we root for Ben and Lindsey as a team who compliment one another even when events conspire against them. Ben's and Lindsey's compatibility is expressed at a restaurant dinner where Ben first meets Lindsey's parents. Even though Lindsey gets Ben to dress more like an adult than a baseball fan for the dinner, he orders a lobster that necessitates him wearing a bib. The scene gets especially hairy when nearby diners at begin discussing the score of the Red Sox game that Ben is distantly recording on his VCR to savor later. Ben begins to blabber nonsensically so he won't overhear the score while struggling with butter covered hands that prevent him from covering his ears. Without missing a beat, Lindsey gets up and covers his ears for him. In spite of her reluctance to help Ben through his momentary crisis, Lindsey selflessly exhibits a brand of familial loyalty that transcends her relationship to her parents. It's a sample of the complex character revelations that Hornby weaves into his work, and it's to the Farrelly brothers' credit that they embrace such awkward moments for their uncontrived appeal, rather than attempting to ply them with forced comedy.

The magic of "Fever Pitch" resides in the film's direct association with baseball, and the Boston Red Sox in specific, as a metaphor for the routine commitment inherent in keeping any relationship alive. Ben comes to realize that the personal rewards he receives from Lindsey are worth more than catching every inning of every Red Sox game. Lindsey, in turn, realizes the full extent of Ben's passion for baseball, his extended family of Red Sox fans, and for her. The film had to be converted from a story about a soccer fan, and then tweaked again when the Boston Red Sox did the unexpected and won the 2004 World Series. There are more than a few home runs in "Fever Pitch."

Rated PG-13. 113 mins. (B+) (Three Stars)


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