Friday, August 25, 2006

Movie Review: Fever Pitch

by Matt Sandler

There often seems to be a fine line that separates fandom from some sort of mental affliction. I consider myself a dyed-in-the-wool, true-blue, diehard Mets fan, but my passion for baseball and my favorite team does not, thank God, approach the level achieved by Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon) in Fever Pitch (2005). In this highly enjoyable, sweet, and funny movie, we are somewhat shocked at the depth of his rooting interests in his beloved Red Sox. I think we can all agree that if you’re 30 and still sleeping with Red Sox sheets on your bed, you’re in some sort of crazy state of arrested development.

Al (Jack Kehler), a diehard Red Sox fan, intermittently narrates the movie. He recalls turning a young Ben (Jason Spevack) into a Sox fan when the kid moves from New Jersey to Boston. Ben grows up into a middle school math teacher, one of those educators in movies that has a great connection with his students, and seems to be on the same emotional level as them. On a school field trip to show his students how people in the real world use math, he meets the beautiful and smart Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore), who does some sort of engineering consulting work. He is challenged by his students to ask her out, and he takes the dare.

They meet in October 2003, and we will see their relationship progress over the course of a year. When they meet is important; it happens right as the Yankees eliminate the Red Sox in the ALCS (the Grady Little-Pedro Martinez series). Therefore, Lindsey will be spending time over the first few months of their relationship with what she will later call “Winter Guy,” as opposed to “Summer Guy.” Winter Ben is a nice and funny guy, in that awkward Jimmy Fallon way, and he has plenty of time to spend with Lindsey due to his hours as a schoolteacher. On the other hand, Lindsey is a workaholic who is desperate to receive a promotion at her job. But Winter Guy is laidback about this, and the relationship progresses nicely.

Then Opening Day rolls around, and although Ben wants to spend it with Lindsey at the ballpark, the next six months (seven if they make the playoffs) of the 2004 baseball season will present quite a challenge. Lindsey learns the true rabid nature of Ben’s obsession with the Red Sox, and they have trouble coming to terms with how they each like to spend their time. Lindsey brings her laptop to Fenway, and gives Ben guilt about causing her to fall behind at work. Ben, on the other hand, breaks Lindsey’s heart in a particularly devastating way. Lindsey invites him to Paris for a work meeting, but he tries to get out of it because the Sox have a big home series that weekend. He realizes the error of his ways, and skips a home game against the Yankees to attend a “Great Gatsby”-themed party with Lindsey. Then, after a session of lovemaking, he calls it the best night of his life. But then he finds out that the Red Sox scored eight runs in the bottom of the ninth to beat the Yankees, and he is crushed. Lindsey is understandably furious at him, and it is surprising in these scenes that what is billed as a comedy contains moments of deep emotion and authenticity. This is a Farrelly brothers movie, after all, but as written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, a screenwriting team known for the good-natured “City Slickers” and “A League of Their Own,” it achieves real poignancy.

It all comes to a head as Ben realizes that he is going to have to choose between the Sox and the love of his life. Or will he? Perhaps Lindsey will realize that making this decision is a false choice, that this couple can have their cake and eat it, too—the baseball and the love. I will leave it to you to discover what happened. The ending is fairly ridiculous, but when you have a movie that is so eager to please both men and women with the baseball angle and the romance angle, some corny license is granted.

The movie benefits from events for which it could not possibly have planned. Of course, 2004 was the year of possibly the greatest comeback in sports history, the Red Sox’ pulling out the 2004 ALCS against the Yankees after being down 3-0. The filmmakers were lucky enough to be able to film in Fenway and in St. Louis for the World Series. Sometimes, true life is indeed stranger than fiction, and the 2004 baseball playoffs were an amazing time.

The movie is based on a book by one of my favorite writers, Nick Hornby (although I have not read Fever Pitch yet). His book was about soccer, but the passion for the sport translates easily from soccer hooligans to Red Sox Nation. In the movie, Ben speaks passionately about his fandom, about being part of something larger than himself. Maybe this is only justification for immature and immoderate behavior, but it sure beats looking at Excel spreadsheets all day.

Matt Sandler's column, "The Critical Fan", appears alternate Fridays


Anonymous Reid Wyatt said...

Have you read Fever Pitch? Know about Arsenal? How does that situation compare to the Red Sox in 2004?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006  

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