In an alternate universe where all such daring experiments work, this might have seemed like a good idea. Alas, here in our little corner of space/time, the uneasy melding that is FEVER PITCH of the directing team of the Farrelly Brothers and the writing team of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel is a bust, even with Nick Hornby (ABOUT A BOY) providing the source material. The Brothers, whose breakthrough hit, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY, best exemplifies their surreal screwball approach to telling tales have taken a genuinely sweet love story and far from running with it, seem to have become petrified when faced with the task of bringing it to life. Sort of like a deer caught in the headlights. It explains the strangely languid feel of the film from beginning to end.
The couple in question is Ben (Jimmy Fallon) and Lindsay (Drew Barrymore). He’s a high school geometry teacher and she’s the real world application that he takes his students to meet on a field trip. Sparks fly, at least for him. Lindsay, though, wonders if an upwardly mobile, hard-charging executive type like herself should get involved with someone who lacks a cell phone, or even a pager. Never mind the small paycheck. Friends’ doubts aside, she plunges in and, after a peculiarly successful first date that turns into a scene from ER, but with better sheets, the two become a serious couple. There is, though, that nagging doubt about why a guy Ben’s age, and not married to a real career, is still single. As winter turns to spring, the truth is revealed. He’s a die-hard Boston Red Sox fan with season tickets behind the bleachers and oddball (what else?) pals who are co-dependent on them.
Does this turn into a farcical look at love and dating when two such different lives collide? No. It stays sweet, and that is the primary problem. Fallon and Barrymore are both warm and likeable and have a cutesy chemistry, but the script gives them little to do but be warm and likeable and make goo-goo eyes at each other. Conflicts, such as they are, she’s up for a promotion at work that means tons of overtime, and he can’t miss the Yankees when they’re playing the Sox, are quickly resolved with a hug and a kiss and, time permitting, a roll in the hay. When the dramatic arc demands that there be a big fight, it’s a desperation move, not to mention a reach considering the way the characters have acted until then, on the part of someone somewhere and looks like it.
The Brothers inject a little of their trademark humor, but it’s an uneven proposition. The perhaps inevitable ball jokes are predictable, as is Lindsay getting beaned by a foul ball (anyone not see that coming even without the repeated airplay of that moment in the saturation ad campaign?). Barrymore gives a good reaction shot, but it’s Jimmy’s line reassuring her that she looked very lady like slipping into unconsciousness by slumping down in her seat that gets the laugh. That would be one of about half a dozed to be found in this putative comedy.
FEVER PITCH is supposed to be a love letter to romance and to baseball. Despite a whole passel of extended clips from the Red Sox miracle season, it’s more like a terse telegram. And one that came C.O.D. at that. It won’t make you a baseball fan if you aren’t one already, and it won’t convince you that love conquers all either, except in Hollywood.