By Madelyn M. Ritrosky-Winslow
I grew up a Red Sox fan. I had a couple of friends who were also into baseball - one a Boston fan like me and the other a fan of Boston's arch enemy, the New York Yankees. We were the only girls in our class who enjoyed discussing players, games, statistics, etc. We were also not above expressing our opinions on the best-looking players.
So as I settled in to watch the new romantic comedy Fever Pitch (2005),
starring Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, I did so with two things in
mind. First, the romance plays out against Boston's historic 2004
season. The Red Sox beat the Yankees and then the Cardinals in a most
spectacular comeback fashion to become World Series champions - all the
more fantastic in that it was 86 years in coming.
Second, this is not the first film based on Nick Hornby's 1992
autobiographical musings of the same name. (Hornby also wrote the
novels About a Boy and High Fidelity, which have been made into films as
well.) The book is about Hornby's devotion to Arsenal, a British soccer
team. It is not a romance. However, when he wrote the script for the
first film, Fever Pitch (1997), a British film starring Colin Firth, a
romance was added. (British television actress Ruth Gemmell
co-starred.) It became a love triangle - man, woman, and sports team.
The 1997 film does an admirable job of walking the line between
respecting and grasping Paul Ashworth's (Firth) fandom and exposing some
of his insensitivity and inanity. The film fashions an explanation for
Paul's zeal without mocking him. This is accomplished in part through
his voice-over narration. In my opinion, though, the movie relies too
heavily on flashbacks to his relationship with his father. And, as much
as I like Firth in a romance, the love story never truly soars. But if
you're interested in thoughtful reflection on ardent sports fandom, then
check out the 1997 Fever Pitch.
OK, what about the new version? This script was penned by writing
partners Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (Edtv, the City Slickers films,
A League of Their Own). The Farrelly brothers direct (There's Something
About Mary, Shallow Hal). We get Drew Barrymore as Lindsey Meeks and
Saturday Night Live's Jimmy Fallon as Ben Wrightman.
Like the 1997 film, this is a romantic triangle, only this time the team
is the Red Sox and the setting is Boston. Numerous details are
different (including the characters' names), but the trajectory of the
central love story is the same. The small amount of voice-over
narration is limited to the opening and closing scenes. Significantly,
it is not Ben. An older man, who sits near Ben at Fenway Park, provides
the narration. We are not in Ben's head.
So the new film does not attempt any extended explanation for Ben's
zeal. There is the one short flashback scene opening the movie, and a
few other subtle clues arise as we watch Ben interact with various
friends and with Lindsey. I guess if it's those amazing Red Sox he's so
excited about, no explanation needed! Hornby or Firth fans might cry
foul at this, because the 1997 film attempted to understand a sports
The remake is more interested in the evolution and nuances of the
couple's relationship, where the Red Sox become the canvas for the
colors of that relationship. I think the new film gets the love story
right. Lindsey and Ben's relationship rings true. There are also plenty of funny moments without going overboard into slapstick comedy or lame jokes.
I was wary of Fallon as a romantic lead, but he does a good job. Fallon's Ben is funny and warm, a fan and a lover. Barrymore's Lindsey has the seemingly right mix of yuppieness, playfulness, and openness.
As the film progresses, Ben's devotion to the Red Sox and the couple's budding romance are on a collision course. The obligatory blow-up is fully believable, in character, and surprisingly poignant. Suffice it to say that they make important gestures for one another at the end.
When Lindsey ultimately decides Ben's devotion to the Red Sox is part of who he is, she joins him in his fandom. While some might think this means the woman has to accept the man's overriding interests, it's not scripted that way. And besides, getting caught up in the Red Sox and that incredible postseason was simply too much fun.
If you're looking for a good date movie, the new Fever Pitch is an excellent choice - a funny, credible romance with an exciting sports backdrop. Hey, we even get to ogle Johnny Damon. Can't beat that.
Fever Pitch opened in theaters April 8, 2005. The Boston Red Sox opened the 2005 baseball season this week.