New Drew Barrymoore Movie ‘Fever Pitch’

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore
in "Fever Pitch."
(Ava Gerlitz/20th Century Fox)

April 8, 2005


Discovering Her Man Is a Boy of Summer


To watch "Fever Pitch," the new, thoroughly winning if not especially good film by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, is to appreciate, yet again, that the great loves of our lives are rarely perfect. That is, of course, not big news. If Hollywood has taught us anything over the last century it is that every so often a seemingly ordinary commercial enterprise can afford us fleeting access to the sublime. And for my money, there are few movie moments right now more sublime than the image of Drew Barrymore running across a major league baseball field and, with that famous jaw jutting into the wind, dodging ballplayers and storybook clichés to save the windup of this imperfectly true romance.

Written by the industrial-strength team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel ("Splash," "City Slickers") and loosely based on the Nick Hornby memoir of the same title, "Fever Pitch" is one of the few Farrelly movies that the brothers didn’t also (officially) write. And while it features a lengthy sequence involving regurgitation – mind you, an unabashedly romantic sequence involving regurgitation – this is the first of their films that doesn’t lean on sight gags and the various insults and humiliations that come with having an all-too-human body. When Ms. Barrymore’s character, Lindsey Meeks, turns an alarming shade of green after a bout of food poisoning, the Farrellys sneak in some delightful business with a dog and an electric toothbrush, but otherwise keep an uncharacteristically discreet distance.

For longtime Farrelly fans, this turn to relative discretion may set off alarms. Ever since their first movie, the gleefully stupid "Dumb and Dumber," the brothers have been doing their part to flush American comedy down the toilet. In contrast to many of their barf-bag brethren, however, who seem stuck in the anal and oral stages, content to manufacture poop jokes and sail along on their own flatulence, the Farrellys have consistently pushed their comedy into new territory, including fatherhood, brotherly love and romance. Equal parts Three Stooges and classic screwball comedy, "There’s Something About Mary" was a crudely funny valentine of a movie, but a valentine nonetheless. In their last comedy, "Stuck on You," a story about conjoined twins with conflicting desires, the brothers sent another valentine, this time to each other.

"Stuck on You" didn’t fully work and neither does "Fever Pitch," but it’s good to see the Farrellys pushing their own comedy comfort level, if only because they’re running out of body fluids to exploit. Ms. Barrymore’s character is an alpha-gal Bostonian with designer tastes, a high-stakes consultant who crunches numbers for high-end clients. One day at work, she finds herself performing career show-and-tell for some elementary school math nerds and their equally nerdy teacher, Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon). After some hemming and hawing, he asks her out and she hesitantly agrees. It isn’t that he isn’t cute (with his fluttery lashes and tentative smile, Mr. Fallon has cute down). The problem, one of her friends suggests, may be that she makes more money. After all, when it comes to most men, "It’s like you’re dating yourself."

But Ben isn’t like most men and it’s the very specific way in which he stands apart from the herd that’s meant to give "Fever Pitch" its singular kick. What makes Ben special isn’t his love for teaching, the way he never tucks in his shirt or any of the little things that make up the sum of a person; it’s that he is a major league Red Sox fan, an obsessive, a true believer, a nut. Having been inducted into the Sox cult at the impressionable age of 8, Jimmy has turned the team into his church and his home. A reproduction of the Green Monster – the left field wall in Fenway Park – covers half his living room. He sleeps in a Sox T-shirt, buys beer with a Sox credit card. He even uses Yankees toilet paper.

For Lindsey, who first falls for the man she calls Winter Guy only to end up a few months later with the single-minded demon she comes to know as Summer Guy, the road to happiness (or maybe madness) may be lined with team jerseys, Johnny Damon bobble-head dolls and countless iterations of red-and-white socks. Working off of Mr. Hornby’s memoir, which recounts his lifelong obsession with a soccer team, the filmmakers try to attenuate Ben’s fixation and balance the lopsided relationship by turning Lindsey into a workaholic. But her friendships have nothing to do with work and her apartment doesn’t resemble a 12-year-old’s rumpus room. Other than the fact that she looks like Drew Barrymore and is impossibly beautiful, Lindsey is just like any other overworked single woman who has ever turned a blind eye to a beer gut, a receding hair line and years of indulgent mothering for a date.

Try as they might, the Farrellys don’t seem wholly comfortable with this material. Unlike Chris and Paul Weitz, who translated Mr. Hornby’s novel "About a Boy" to the screen with such fluidity, the Farrellys have a hard time finding the right rhythm for their film, perhaps because for once the actors aren’t spinning in circles. This is the first Farrelly movie not stuffed to the gills with comic bells and whistles and booming yuks, which may explain why the first 20 minutes are so excruciating. The film has the flat lighting and sound of canned television, and the actors look as if they have been dropped on the set without instruction. Things improve as the story unfolds, or maybe I was just too eager to see it all work out to continue fussing about the filmmaking.

Still, despite the visual clumsiness and the production’s tattered seams, I found myself rooting for this movie anyway, partly because Lindsey and Ben make a nice fit, as do the actors playing them, partly because the Farrellys bring so much heart to their movies, and partly because Ms. Barrymore inspires more goodwill than any other young actress I can think of working today in American movies. She doesn’t give a performance for the ages in "Fever Pitch" (we may have to wait for her movie with Curtis Hanson, "Lucky You," to see what she is capable of), but she does enough. Like a loyal Sox fan, you root hard for her to make it across that baseball field, just as you root hard for the Farrellys, hoping against hope that they have hit another one out of the park.

"Fever Pitch" is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). It includes mild adult humor and very discreet lovemaking.

‘Fever Pitch’

Opens today nationwide.

Directed by Peter Farrelly and Bobby Farrelly; written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, based on the book by Nick Hornby; director of photography, Matthew F. Leonetti; edited by Alan Baumgarten; music by Craig Armstrong; production designer, Maher Ahmad; produced by Alan Greenspan, Amanda Posey, Gil Netter, Drew Barrymore, Nancy Juvonen and Bradley Thomas; released by Fox 2000 Pictures. Running time: 98 minutes. This film is rated PG-13.

WITH: Drew Barrymore (Lindsey), Jimmy Fallon (Ben), Jason Spevack (Ben in 1980), Jack Kehler (Al), Scott H. Severance (Artie) and Jessamy R. Finét (Teresa).

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