Off The Wall

Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon touch all the bases in the charming, oddball `Fever Pitch.`

MovieReview

April 08, 2005|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

Baseball, Boston and Drew Barrymore. Certainly sounds like a winning combination.

In fact, it is (much as those of us in these parts might insist that second B should be Baltimore, but let's be big about this). Fever Pitch is a delightful romantic comedy that understands as much about the obsessive baseball fan as the chronic workaholic, and daringly suggests they can live under the same roof, provided the concept of give-and-take is not totally foreign to either of them.

Barrymore is adorable as Lindsey Meeks, 24/7 career woman whose love life is nonexistent. But then, one bright winter morn, an elementary school math teacher named Ben (Jimmy Fallon) walks in with a couple of his students, and before long the two are aggressively - and mutually - attracted.

Ben proves a real charmer, especially when he takes care of a sick Lindsey. What's not to love about this guy? Even his hesitant admission that he's a crazed Red Sox fan - in case the signals sent by his Red Sox shower curtain and his Red Sox pillow cases didn't give him away already - doesn't faze Lindsey. When he insists on going down to spring training, even though she has made other plans, she understands; how nice that the team lets its fans train with them, she says.

The disconnect between irrationally but honestly obsessed Ben and indulgent, accepting but coldly logical Lindsey is hilarious, in ways any true sports fan (especially of the male persuasion) should understand.

But when the true extent of his fandom becomes clear, Lindsey's dilemma also becomes clear. She fell in love with winter Ben, but can she stand to live with summer Ben? For that matter, could anyone?

Based on a book by Brit Nick Hornby, who was writing about soccer (proving such illogical passions exist in every sport), Fever Pitch has a great feel for how dedication to a team can make a lunatic out of even the most normal of men, but doesn't ignore Lindsey's predicament, either. In many ways, she's as wedded to her job as Ben is to the Sox, and whether four separate entities can co-exist in one marriage is central to both the dilemma and the comedy of the movie.

Written by Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz (Parenthood, A League of Their Own), Fever Pitch has their requisite mix of pathos and laughs, neither overwhelming the other. And the direction by Bobby and Peter Farrelly is nearly pitch perfect; although known for raunchy comedies like There's Something About Mary, they tone things down a few notches (mostly - these are the Farrellys, after all). Growing up in New England, they're big Red Sox fans themselves, and it shows.

Barrymore and Fallon are never less than likable. Although she's better when there's an element of kooky to her character, Barrymore remains one of her generation's best light comedians, while Fallon, after his disastrous screen debut in last year's Taxi, proves no career is beyond redemption.

Most impressive of all, the movie appears almost seamless, despite a last-second turn of events that necessitated a total rewrite of the ending and that, in less skillful hands, could have scuttled the entire project.

For Fever Pitch was originally designed as yet another Valentine to those most tantalizing of losers, the denizens of Red Sox Nation, a romance played out with the background of yet another last-minute fold by the baseball team that hadn't won a World Series since 1918. Just as the love affair between the Sox and their fans has improbably lingered despite such a circumstance, the film would have suggested, so could the romance between the film's central characters soldier on.

Who knew the Sox would muck things up by actually going and winning the championship last fall? But some frenetic tinkering and hastily scheduled reshoots later, the film hits theaters none the worse for having been re-imagined.

Who is the most avid sports fan you know? Why do you think so? Please send responses to sports@baltimore sun.com.

Fever Pitch

Starring Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon

Directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly

Released by 20th Century Fox

Rated PG-13 (crude and sexual humor, some sensuality)

Time 97 minutes

Sun Score ***1/2

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