A sweet and often hilarious movie about modern romance and its fearsome adversary, modern life, "Fever Pitch" was adapted from Nick Hornby's memoirs of obsessive soccer fandom. The hapless hero of the book is an Arsenal fan, and the American version finds a neat parallel universe in Boston. Translated from the British, it's the story of a love triangle involving Jimmy Fallon, Drew Barrymore and the Red Sox. Real life just provided the extra-happy ending.
Ben (Jimmy Fallon), a boyish middle school math teacher, meets the go-getting Lindsey (Drew Barrymore) on a field trip to her office, where he's taken his honors geometry class to meet someone who has applied her math skills in the real world. An ambitious executive on the rise, Lindsey doesn't immediately see a potential partner in Ben, and she's somewhat taken aback when he asks her out. Their first date gets off to a disastrous start when Lindsey is stricken with a severe case of food poisoning -- and her sonorous retching provides the first clue that we are, in fact, watching a Farrelly brothers movie. But there's a discreetness -- a gurgling delicacy, if you will -- to the grossness, which somehow makes the scene feel intimately, endearingly disgusting. Rather than accept Lindsey's (rather urgent) request to reschedule, Ben sticks around to play nurse. And orderly. And janitor. To watch Ben scrub the toilet and the dog's teeth (you don't want to know) after his love interest has passed out with a bucket next to her bed is to be won over. When Lindsey wakes up in the morning and finds him asleep on her couch, she begins the long, fitful process of dismantling the web of status anxiety and ambition she has come to think of as her standards. "I date poodles, basically," she explains later to Ben, who is clearly more the lovable mutt type. And to her friends, she rationalizes: "Why does everything in my life have to be a trophy?"
As is par for the course in movies like this one, Lindsey and Ben come with a colorful assortment of opinion-wielding friends. Lindsey's strictest buddy, the skinny, rich and blond Robin (KaDee Strickland), insists that there must be something wrong with the guy if he's still single at 30. "He should be with the wrong person by now," she reasons, scaring Lindsey with one of the nastiest dating horror stories ever told. Plump, curly-haired Sarah (Marissa Jaret Winokur) and Molly (Ione Skye) supply the optimistic view.
Of course, Robin is onto something -- Ben is a lifelong Red Sox fan, a condition that in many ways resembles martyrdom. Having inherited choice season tickets from his beloved uncle, Ben has organized his life around the season -- he's never missed a game. The relationship, which has progressed without a hitch through the winter (we know so via the requisite happiness montage), hits a snag at the start of the season.
As closely as the movie sticks to formula generics, the script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel also manages to incorporate Hornby's lyrical analysis of sports fandom without resorting to voice-over or time-stopping speeches. The roots and significance of Ben's devotion/affliction add unexpected dimension to a character that could have come across as merely immature and selfish, and Fallon embodies the goofy but solid Ben with a lightness and tenderness that's quite winning. When the relationship hits the skids, a wise fifth-grader suggests that he ponder the unrequited nature of his Sox love, but it's through his conflicts with Lindsey -- who has her own issues -- that Ben comes to understand what role the team has played in his life.
Barrymore, who seems to have grown up lately, is equally charming as the workaholic Lindsey, particularly as she struggles to accept Ben for who he is without losing sight of her own needs. For example, duty requires that she get up during the introductory dinner with her parents and cover her boyfriend's ears (he's holding lobster claws) when a loudmouth at a nearby table nearly reveals a score to a game he's taped for later. Things get more difficult when their priorities directly contradict each other, and both Fallon and Barrymore do a nice job of rendering the complicated negotiations that make up the daily ins and outs of any relationship.
"Fever Pitch" has its share of inspired comedic moments -- Ben's version of hitting rock bottom, for instance, is priceless. Even if you can see the formula paces coming from a mile away, "Fever Pitch" is a warm and funny enough diversion to make up for it. It's a prettified view of love, for sure, but as Sox fans would surely attest, sometimes fairy tale dreams do come true.
MPAA rating: PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, and some sensuality
Times guidelines: The sexual humor is mild.
A 20th Century Fox release. Directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly. Producers Alan Greenspan, Amanda Posey, Gil Netter, Drew Barrymore, Nancy Juvonen, Bradley Thomas. Executive producers Nick Hornby, David Evans, Marc S. Fisher. Screenplay by Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel. Based on the book by Nick Hornby. Director of photography Matthew F. Leonetti. Editor Alan Baumgarten. Costume designer Sophie de Rakoff. Music Craig Armstrong. Production designer Maher Ahmad. Art director Brandt Gordon. Set decorator Jaro Dick. Running time: 1 hour, 41 minutes.
In general release.