Fever Pitch: Farrellys Romantic Comedy Starring Drew Barrymore

There are serious issues at the center of “Fever Pitch,” the new comedy from Peter and Bobby Farrelly. Simply put, the film deals with life priorities.

Like most films of its genre, “Fever Pitch” is a love triangle, albeit one with a big twist. Instead of revolving around three people (usually a young woman torn between two different men), the story involves a young woman, a young man, and the Boston Red Sox as the third party that interferes with their romance and happiness.

Despite a strong central idea, “Fever Pitch” is not as good a picture as it should have been. First, there’s a casting problem. Watching the film, you can’t help but see Adam Sandler (who had worked successfully with Drew Barrymore before) in the role that Jimmy Fallon plays. A stand-up comic (best-known for its appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and the recent Queen Latifah’s vehicle, “Taxi,” Fallon is not a particularly attractive or commanding actor, and hence the movie tilts in the direction of its leading lady, even in scenes that belong to him.

More importantly, “Fever Pitch” is not funny enough. Though the Farrellys avoid using gross out jokes, they have not found a substitute for their bathroom humor, which was evident in most of their pictures. Finally, “Fever Pitch” is inexplicably under-populated; it’s basically a two-handler. All of the secondary characters, Barrymore’s friends and parents and Fallon’s cohorts and students are so narrowly conceived that they are borderline caricatures.

That said, it’s hard to think of another American film that has explored with such depth the very meaning of being a diehard sports fan, the joys and rewards, sacrifices and compensations that define and pervade every aspect of life.

High-school teacher Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon) is a good catch. He’s charming, funny, and has great rapport with kids at school. When he meets Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore), an ambitious business consultant whose spirit is as luminous as her beauty, their attraction is immediate. To be sure, like all beginning couples, they have differences. Lindsey’s a workaholic; Ben loves his summers off. He lives and breathes the Red Sox; she doesn’t know Carl Yastrzemski from Johnny Damon. She’s a newcomer to the temple of baseball, who doesn’t know anything about it.

Pushing 30, and beginning to worry about her singlehood, Lindsey thinks she’s finally met the perfect guy. Everything seems ideal–until the Red Sox spring training rolls around. As the beloved team launches one of the most incredible seasons in baseball history, Ben and Lindsey must decide if they, as a couple, will strike out or fight to keep their love alive.

The movie is based on Nick Hornby’s autobiographical book “Fever Pitch” (also made into a movie), which recounted the author’s obsession with British football, better known to Americans as soccer. However, instead of “Americanizing” Hornby’s work, screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel took his premise of an obsessive sports fan, and have fashioned a contemporary romantic comedy in the classic tradition.

The credits of the famed screenwriting duo include “Parenthood,” “Splash,” “A League of their Own,” “City Slickers,” and most recently, Fox’s animated feature “Robots.” Claiming that, “American romantic comedies aren’t really romantic comedies anymore,” they and the Farrellys were hoping to fill that void. However, judging by the end result, “Fever Pitch” is uneven and semi-successful effort.

The baseball component could have removed and substituted with another passionate obsession, and the questions the movie asks would still remain relevant, namely, How much do you have to give up or change to have a successful relationship To what degree do you accept persons for whom they are and just work with it, or try to change your partners so that they fit your mold

In the beginning, when Ben complains to Lindsey that he has lost many girlfriends due to his full immersion in the Red Sox and the subculture around it, she joins him at poking fun at these women. However, the turning point in their relationship occurs when Lindsey volunteers to exchange her business class flight to Paris for two coach tickets and take Ben with her. Who in his right mind will object to a weekend in Paris, with the airfare paid Well, Ben does, and while Lindsey pretends to accept it, she’s really resentful of his choice.

Working in the genre of romantic comedy might seem a departure from thee Farrelly’s unique brand of comedy, vividly shown in films like “There’s Something About Mary,” “Me, Myself & Irene,” “Shallow Hall” and “Stuck on You.” “Fever Pitch” is a more old-fashioned story, one that doesn’t call for broad sight gags and outlandish humor. A character-driven comedy, it’s set in the real world, in a recognizable milieu.

Several scenes take place in Boston’s historic Fenway Park, which is more of a Park than a Stadium. Since it’s a more intimate locale, it’s easy to believe players who say they can actually feel the heat of the crowd when they are down on the field.

Fallon has a boyish quality that suits his role. It’s the boy in him that loves baseball and all the other things that can’t let go of. But unlike Barrymore, who’s far more experienced with romantic comedies, Fallon lacks subtlety, and he’s not a leading man in the way that Adam Sandler or Ben Stiller are. These weaknesses, combined with his limited vocal range, result in a performance that’s not modulated enough.

The film offers a number of rewards. To depict Ben’s obsession with the game, production designer Maher Ahmad stuffed Ben’s apartment with baseball memorabilia, like Red Sox sheets and towels; even the telephone is placed in a glove. Ahmad replicated Fenway Park’s famed outfield wall, the Green Monster, on one of Ben’s living room walls, and added other accents familiar to Sox fans, like run-of-the-mill stadium souvenirs and foam fingers.

For such a movie to work, it needs to get the little baseball touches right. Having been born and raised in New England, the Farrellys seem to be familiar with the team players and their fans. There are lots of inside jokes about the Bosox’s history and their opponents, the New York Yankees.

The crew was given 10 days to shoot in Fenway; half of which were game days. The most anxious moment in the story comes at the end of one game, when the Farrellys had to walk out onto the field and ask 37,000 fans to remain in their seats while the production filmed a scene that had Drew Barrymore running across the field.

During the shoot, the unthinkable occurred: The Red Sox started winning, making one of the most incredible comebacks in baseball history. In 2004, the Red Sox won the World Series, finally ending the “Curse of the Bambino.” The Red Sox won fifth World Series in 1918, but then suffered an 86-year losing streak after trading Babe Ruth (“The Bambino”) to the Yankees.

The initial script had the Red Sox dropping out of the pennant race, but with their new, phenomenal streak, it had to be changed. Hence, suddenly, the original script, that everyone loved and no one wanted to change, had to be rewritten; Ganz and Mandell kept updating the tale. Luckily for the producers, only the last act of the movie was affected by the rewrites.

When the Red Sox traveled to St. Louis for the World Series, the Farrellys were at first reluctant to join them, for fear of jinxing the team. But then, on the off chance that they win, they decided to be there. They flew to St. Louis, and lo and behold, the Sox did win the game. Major League Baseball let them out on the field, and they got footage that would have been impossible to recreate.

Capturing the win makes the movie richer and more authentic. The cast and crew were there shooting the Red Sox win at the same time that they shot the culmination of the film’s love story. Due to these unique circumstances, the Red Sox’s journey runs parallel to the movie’s love.