Baseball or Barrymore?
NICK HORNBY’S book Fever Pitch tells the story of his obsession with Arsenal football club – not even relationships with women stood a chance compared to his beloved Gunners. He understands us so well, how men think about women and how women think about men, and his books have been the starting point for great movies – High Fidelity (2000), About A Boy (2002) and now Fever Pitch.
The humour comes from his close observation of humanity: we know these people, we dated these people, in fact, we are these people. With a British film adaptation already under his belt (1997 starring Colin Firth), he gave Hollywood free reign in making its own version of Fever Pitch. Baseball replaces football and the Red Sox stand in for Arsenal.
The film opens with six-year-old Ben Wrightman’s conversion into a Red Sox fan; then we skip 23 years to the Red Sox’s 2004 winning season. This romantic comedy uses baseball’s emotional highs and lows to enhance its love story. Amazingly, it avoids the usual opposites attract formula and treats its relationship realistically.
Thirty-year-old, single, geometry teacher Ben (Fallon) refuses to let hope die and religiously goes to every Sox game, courtesy of the season ticket subscription he inherited from his uncle. Ben lives in a memorabilia crammed apartment that’s badly in need of a makeover. He doesn’t think it at all unusual that he owns more Major League Baseball uniforms than regular clothes, after all, he’s the sort of guy who runs out into the street in his underwear to greet the van delivering his season tickets.
This man is not just a citizen of the Red Sox Nation – he’s practically the president, which never sits well with girlfriends. When he meets adorable, ambitious, highly paid Lindsey Meeks (Barrymore), he hesitates to explain the depth of his obsession.
Their first date is not good: Lindsey suffers from food poisoning, but Ben is a nice guy, he cleans her up, puts her to bed and sleeps on the sofa. In no time they’re in love. What she doesn’t understand is, she’s in love with winter guy, summer guy is a Red Sox fan.
Come summer season, another side of Ben emerges, the one who tells a reporter that the three most important things in life can be ranked as the Red Sox, sex and breathing.
Suddenly, Lindsey is no longer the centre of his world. At first, Lindsey’s ok with his fanaticism, but she’s about to turn 30 and the path of her relationship with Ben leads her to serious soul searching. Is this the sort of relationship she can handle for the rest of her life? Worse, is she only the mistress warming his bed while he spends the better part of his waking hours with his true love?
Nevertheless, she tries entering Ben’s world by accompanying him to games, albeit with her laptop so that she can keep up with her own obsessive work habits. Initially, she gets caught up in the fervour and enjoys Ben’s company. But, as the months wear on, he spurns her offer of a weekend trip to Paris as it clashes with a home game and, later, he berates her after he misses a humdinger of a match to attend a party.
Hornby’s dark wit concerns the abominable behaviour of males, especially toward the opposite sex, but the squeaky-clean, lightweight comedy team of Ganz and Mandel adapted the screenplay into a fluffy romantic comedy, then the Farrelly brothers, known for their crudity, directed it. The oddest thing of all is that, despite this bizarre mix, Fever Pitch actually works.
It’s a movie about how men and women simply do not speak the same emotional language. It burrows to the core of the most difficult aspect of relationships – compromise. She cannot understand why he would rather go to the spring training camp in Florida than meet her parents; and he can’t understand why this is even an issue.
*** It won’t get you hot under the collar, but it will raise a smile