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Movie Review: Fever Pitch

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After starring in the noisy, laugh-free flop Taxi in 2004, it’s good to know Jimmy Fallon actually has some acting talent, displayed in the infinitely better written movie Fever Pitch.

Of course, the material he has to work with is a significant upgrade, as the story is based on a novel by British author Nick Hornby, who previously saw his works High Fidelity and About a Boy made into movies. The screenplay, adapted by longtime writing partners Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, moves the story from the soccer field to the baseball diamond – a wise move for wider appeal to American audiences.

Schoolteacher and Boston Red Sox fan Ben Wrightman loves his team with a passion. His wardrobe is largely Red Sox uniforms and ball caps, while he has enough memorabilia inside his home to start his own museum. Having been left season tickets by his late uncle, who took him to his first game at age 7, Ben’s life during baseball season revolves around his beloved Red Sox.

But a field trip he takes a few of his students on introduces him to Lindsey, a career-driven woman he is instantly smitten with. This leads to the start of a relationship, in which he knows his Red Sox obsession will soon reveal itself. However, much to his surprise, Lindsey is OK with having to share him with the Red Sox – a decision that she eventually realizes is leading to problems.

To the story’s credit, Ben is not just painted as a baseball obsessed fan, but a genuinely good guy who really cares for Lindsey. He just struggles to find the right balance between his two most important relationships.

While not asked to delve deep into his emotions, Fallon gives a winning and believable performance as a superfan that has to decide how far he’s willing to go for love. Barrymore is equally good as a sweet-natured woman who is by turns charmed, horrified and embarrassed by the fanaticism that Ben has for his team.

Less successful are the supporting cast, most of who make little to no impact in the movie. Perhaps some of their best stuff was on the cutting room floor, but the scenes involving them usually end up flat. Thankfully, we’re largely spared any acting attempts from the Red Sox players, who occasionally make brief appearances in scenes.

As directed by Bobby and Peter Farrelly, gone is any of the scatological humor that has almost become the brothers’ calling card in movies such as Dumb and Dumber, There’s Something About Mary and Kingpin.

They demonstrate in this movie that they can convey sweetness without being gross. And with Boston’s unexpected success during the 2004 season, the brothers were also forced to do some last minute rewrites and fast filming to capture the team’s historic World Series victory.

That point turns out to be more of an interesting footnote to the movie’s conclusion, as by then the filmmakers are obviously hoping that audiences will be more invested in the turnout of Ben and Lindsey’s relationship, rather than a baseball game. Then again, try to explain that to the Red Sox Nation.

Grade: B
(Rated PG-13 for rude and sexual humor, and some sensuality.)

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About Mike Cullinan