Fever Pitch

Where were we? Right: quaking in our boots at the thought of sitting through Fever Pitch, the shameless Americanization of Nick Hornby’s life-altering (at least in my case) novel about one man’s obsession with his favourite team. So I’m pleased to report that the movie wasn’t nearly as bad as I was assuming it would be…and that said, I still can’t quite say that I liked it.

The premise: Ben (played by Jimmy “I Love the Red Sox and the Yankees!” Fallon) is a high school teacher whose obsession with the Boston Red Sox is giving him an acute case of arrested development. Lindsay (Drew Barrymore) is a hard-working, ambitious…uh, she works in math. But she’s at a major turning point in her career when she meets Ben, who then proceeds to court her at what I’m assuming is meant to be Boston Common but which is very clearly being played in Fever Pitch by Queens Park. Gradually, the layers of Ben’s Sox obsession reveal themselves to Lindsay (he sleeps under Red Sox covers, for instance, or places the Sox above sex and breathing in his list of what’s important in life), while her friends begin to wonder whether this man-child is capable of giving her the emotional support she needs. You can see where this is headed–so I’ll skip forward to the end, in which Drew Barrymore, for reasons too trite to recount in this space, ends up running barefoot across Fenway Park’s playing surface during Game #4 of the 2004 Red Sox/Yankees ALCS (Dave Roberts, etc). Which is all well and good, since Fever Pitch, as conceived by the brothers Farelley, is no longer a psychological study of obsession and sport; rather, it’s been twisted and perverted beyond virtually all recognition and shot instead as a romantic comedy, in which these sorts of occurrences are standard.

Again, this is fine…except that the natural consequence of calling the movie Fever Pitch is that idiot scribes all over the world are seeing it as a product of the original novel (a Star writer, for instance, opined that the original is about a woman who falls in love with a lunatic soccer fan–which isn’t even close to being true, yet still won’t prevent thousands upon thousands of people from being brutally let down when they pick up a copy of Hornby’s book). And yet I digress. In its newly adapted form, Fever Pitch is the ultimate chick flick: a smart, attractive and ambitious young woman takes a man with a serious sports obsession and tames him. Say what you will about the movie’s subtler points (and it does have them, even though notions of subtlety should probably be anathema when discussing the Bros. Farelley), but that, to me, is the overriding message. Take, for instance, the humiliating scene in which Ben, having seen some sort of light, skips out on a Red Sox/Yankees game to attend–get ready for this–a Great Gatsby-themed birthday party for his girlfriend’s friend. And sure, the final act in the movie sees Ben realizing the error of his ways without his girlfriend’s coercive hand…but by then, I was too disgusted at how whipped he’d become that it didn’t really matter.

As for the baseball scenes, you won’t find them in short thrift…and if you’re a Red Sox fan you’ll probably enjoy the several cameos from key members of the Sox’ 2004 championship team. And that said, Fever Pitch also recycles way too many of the aggravating myths about the Boston Red Sox that were making the rounds last October–chief among them the idiotic “Curse of the Bambino”, a shameless ploy concocted by a Boston-area sports writer who has since acknowledged the idiocy of the entire thing. Ben, meanwhile, is more than happy to tap into each and every one of these stereotypes; the ultimate effect is a caricaturization.

Which leads me to my ultimate beef with the movie: by stripping Hornby’s book of its nuance, the Farelleys are essentially depicting sports fans as bat-fucking-crazy lunatics who shove lobster claws into their ears in order to prevent themselves from hearing the score before they’ve watched the tape. And while I’m sure these sports of people exist–I’ve certainly demonstrated my fair share of strange, quasi-antisocial tendencies in the name of the Minnesota Vikings–the moviemakers don’t do nearly a good enough job of developing Ben’s character to make his quirks seem like anything other than a trifling personality flaw. The solution to his “problems,” they decide, is Lindsay’s nurturing hand…which leads me to yet another problem. In Fever Pitch, sports fandom is presented in utterly Manichean terms: you’re either insane or you’re not. Ben, clearly, is insane–and Lindsay, clearly, is the only thing to straighten him out. And granted, this is only one perspective; Bri, for instance, has a totally different one than I do, and I’m sure she’ll write about it once she’s finished exams. But for me, Fever Pitch is ultimately a parable of what’s wrong with modern relationships: an utter lack of trust and communication between the two parties. Maybe I’m wrong, and maybe I shouldn’t be looking so deeply within the frames of a movie whose makers were responsible for Dumb and Dumber. But as Chuck Klosterman once demonstrated, you can find philosophical value in idioms of popular culture–and the ideas I found in Fever Pitch made me want to run for the exits.

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