"Eighty-six years of bangin' our heads against the big green wall, but we finally did it. That part you know. That part everybody knows. But I got a story you don't know..."
Right time, right place. When the Farrelly Brothers (Peter and Bobby) set out to remake 'Fever Pitch' (1997, based on the novel by Nick Hornby) and translate it to American audiences more familiar with baseball than soccer, stars Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore were included in random events throughout the 2004 Boston Red Sox season, including throwing out first pitches. The film, which was slated to end in disappointment for the die-hard mega-fan, faced a last minute rewrite due to the real life winning streak the team went on, eventually overcoming "the curse of the bambino" to win their first championship since 1918, when the team still had all-time legend Babe Ruth.
For some strange reason, I love this film, and I can't even figure out why. Let's be honest: no matter what one's personal feelings are for the flick, it isn't some diamond in the rough or a defining flick of any genre. Like many a Farrelly film, 'Fever Pitch' has far too many distractions and sideplots and annoying characters and entirely unfunny humor. I can truthfully say the film has many areas where it could be improved, and there are a couple of scenes that are prone to be fast-forwarded through, due to how painfully awful and out of place they are in the scope of the film. Yet, here I am giving it a respectable score. The thing is, 'Fever Pitch' is a film with its heart in the right place. Without a single mean spirited bone in its body, this comedy does a great job showing the ups and downs of a relationship, and does a fantastic job with portraying obsession, particularly for a character like Ben (Fallon), who uses the Red Sox as a crutch throughout his life.
What 'Fever Pitch' does right, it hits out of the park. What 'Fever Pitch' does wrong is like the most embarrassing swing-and-a-miss imaginable, and there is no in between.
When Ben meets Lindsey (Barrymore), the apathetic grade school teacher doesn't seem like a great fit for the career-oriented woman in an entirely different pay grade. She's an attractive adult with her high maintenance acquaintances; he's a dorky guy with a replica Green Monster and a wardrobe reminiscent of the students he teaches. Before long, the two are inseparable, though Lindsey's friends wonder how such a catch could still be on the market at his age. Then baseball season approaches, and Lindsey discovers she has to compete for Ben's attention with twenty five men in matching uniforms....
As Ben tries to introduce his life-long passion to his new squeeze, his interests overtake hers and the pair find themselves at odds, and soon enough Ben's obsession creates a rift between them. Their relationship in shambles, Ben has to look at his life and decide what's more important to him: the woman he loves, or the team that doesn't love him back.
'Fever Pitch' isn't an amazingly deep film. If anything, it's shallow yet expansive, in an attempt to hold the same amount of content. The relationship between Ben and Lindsey is the film's driving force and motivation, and we're all along for the ride, and by saying "we're," I don't just mean the viewer, as every other person in the film is held hostage by this relationship. Both of the main characters have what we can call support groups. They exist solely to make the characters have someone to talk to, to make them seem sociable and normal, busy, happy people. For all intensive purposes, though, they may as well be figments of their imagination, considering how unimportant each and every other character is to the film, and that's the biggest downfall to 'Fever Pitch.'
Lindsey has her parents, as well as a trio of female friends, with whom she goes to restaurants, parties, gyms, and generally hangs out . They're long-time friends, and through them, she hears stories of other people's relationships, and how they didn't work. They're the cancer in this film, spreading doubt and creating conflict, or at the very least being the embodiment of said emotions. Ben, meanwhile, has a number of support crews. From the opening scenes, we see his students pressuring him to stand up and be a man, to ask Lindsey out. Then there's his group of fellow Red Sox fans, who play no pivotal role in the film, whatsoever, despite taking up a hefty chunk of screen time, and may as well be played by the spouses of Lindsey's support group. Then there's the three guys married to Lindsey's friends, who are envious of Ben's seats and experiences with the Red Sox, and finally Ben's summer family, the other season ticket holders who remain a constant around him.
In a Farrelly Brothers film, there are always extraneous characters who waste our time with horrifically bad subplots. That's just the name of the game. In 'Fever Pitch,' though, it reaches a boiling point due to all these other bodies wasting valuable time. Their moments aren't funny, they're embarrassingly bad, including an awful sequence where grown white men dance like, well, grown white men in an attempt to lure better tickets from Ben. This pool of characters could be cut in half, and the film would still have too much wasted space! Even our narrator is one of these wasted characters.
It's actually rather poetic the way the difficulties evolve over the course of the movie. We have the meet cute, the establishing days of the relationship, the revelation of the fanaticism, the skepticism over how bad it is until witnessed first hand, the early goings when it all seems like good fun, the backlash from excess, and then the removal of one party from the entire equation. It's natural, and the events that happen to force each change make sense in the story. This should have been enough!
When Ben and Lindsey hit the wall, and realize the challenges awaiting them, we see a very adult take on addiction. We see two crazy kids trying to make it in the world, against all the forces trying to pull them apart. It's somewhat naive, yet it's cute and charming and likable. We get to enjoy both characters for who they are, for their individuality in the face of dominating personalities. We can ignore the way dialogue spews out back and forth like unnatural robots reading scripts, because we like them and want to root for them, meaning the film is doing something right in the midst of all the things it's doing wrong.
The heartbreak in the film is also effective. From the moment Ben finds out he screwed up Lindsey's big reveal and a potential trip to Paris, to the realization they won't be parents, and Ben's disappointment after buying baby-sized Red Sox gear, we see these characters as people, going through the same shit we all go through. They're no different than us, save for that whole being attractive thing that everyone is raving about. When the couple get in their first big fight (and it's a freaking doozy), they discover the different paths they're on, and how they'll never be able to change who they are, despite the attempts and sacrifices they make in order to make things work. They're their own individual beings, and they realize they have to accept each other for who they are, rather than who they aren't, in their time apart. It's a point not really hit all that clearly in the film, but is definitely a message hidden under the layers of stupid side plots.
Throughout the film, the one common theme, aside from Fallon being a grating, unbearable fool and Barrymore being gorgeous (hey, it's the truth!), is the Boston Red Sox. The reasons they were chosen make sense, so not only do we have a historical backdrop (especially considering what happened in 2004 for the team!), we have writers and directors who know the history of the team. We get a history lesson of one of the most storied franchises in American sports replacing the storied Arsenal F.C., as Ben and his "summer family" teach the newcomer Lindsey the history of the game, and through Ben's apartment, we see the joys and heartbreaks that years as a fan have caused him. Of course, we can also point to the team's failures and their dramatic shortcomings as another reason for Ben's immaturity, but psychoanalyzing a fictional character is a bit much, even for me...
The Red Sox and their role in the love triangle is perfection. Ignoring the eight game post-season win streak (including the greatest comeback in professional sports), a team suffering from regular season ups and downs reflects the relationship ups and downs of the main characters. Through them, we see unbridled joy and agonizing defeat. The team's history crafts the characters to who and what they are, even to present day, where emotions hinge on their winning or losing. Yet, in the best scene in the film, as the guys wallow in a bar lamenting what looks to be a postseason disaster, they witness three of the key players from the team laughing it up. The guys, lifetime fans, are mostly incapable of understanding that the players aren't like the obsessive fans. They're doing their job, and they don't dwell on it. It's this realization that acts as a fantastic catalyst for the finale to the film, which is a little goofy and unrealistic, but, much like in baseball, stranger things have happened.
There's so much that takes place in 'Fever Pitch,' both good and bad, it's unfortunate we're left with the wrong memories and impressions, like the lobster handed screaming, the awful, awful fight, or the dance off for tickets. There are delightful scenes and interesting characters, yet there are also painfully annoying and insufferable ones, as well. In short, it's typical Farrelly Brothers, where potential is not always realized, and excess is always available at every turn.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Fever Pitch' comes to Blu-ray in a big wave of female friendly titles from Fox on a BD50 disc with Region A markings. There's no packaging gimmicks (so no "Cursed Reversed" edition slipcovers, DVD owners...), just an eco-case and the same art as the regular DVD release. There's no pre-menu content on this disc, and the menu itself features a small window box in the middle for a video loop that is...less than enticing.
Sometimes we get a catalog title that, out of the blue, is a borderline miracle, a revelation, a stunner. Other times, we get 'Fever Pitch.' I really don't know what to say. It's somewhat spooky how bad this disc looks. I'll go through it point by point.
Colors - The colors on this disc look awful. Solid, strong colors just don't exist. Bright reds are fuzzy to the point you'd think they were a stuffed animal rather than, I dunno, a wall or a chair. Whites are ugly, blacks are weak, blues often are dingy and grimy. The entire picture just looks off. It looks old, faded, lacking in luster. Tell me this film is meant to look that way, and I'll tell you that this disc goes above and beyond aesthetic approach.
Details - What, you mean with crappy colors there's crappy detail levels, too? Never in a million years would I consider Drew Barrymore an unattractive woman, yet this disc frequently makes her look bad. Her curly hair? Regularly flat. During the scene at Niagara Falls, you can barely see the rain! The ball field isn't sharp with amazingly lush green blades of grass waiting to poke your eyes out. It's...flat. It's all so very flat, it doesn't make sense! Hooray, undersaturated flatness!
What else went wrong? - Black crush. I hate it. When we first see Barrymore for her first date, when the door opens, she looks like she put on three hundred pounds, because her clothing absorbs her furniture. Deep blacks regularly have no definition, swallow objects around them, and look hellaciously awkward in any scene, so of course there's more than a few black pieces of attire and only plenty of darker shots for night games. Yay! I should also mention the randomly obvious haloing, the light debris field, and the fact that textures are borderline non-existant on this disc.
The audio for 'Fever Pitch' isn't the disappointment that the video is. Presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, the film actually does a solid job, particularly for the age and genre. For example, I've never heard Sweet Caroline sound so good (so good, so good)! I've also never heard how great Barrymore's seagull sound is, as here it has a little extra screech to it that the DVD didn't have. Better still, bass pumps in the soundtrack just fine, rears get some random ambience and crowd activity at games, and there's more than a few solid pops in the film. Yes, some lines in the school classroom have an odd hollowness to them, and yeah, more than a few crowded rooms feel front heavy, but the fact that the effort was made to give the rears some localized effect, and the fact that Neil Diamond kills in high def...I'm satisfied.
"Careful, kid. They'll break your heart."
'Fever Pitch' is among my favorite films. Truly. I love this flick, I think it's cute, charming, and yet I still fast forward through scenes due to how amazingly annoying they can be. The film carries the trademark shortcomings of its directors, and may not appeal to everyone. This Blu-ray release, a budget cheapie with lots of extras, looks pretty darned bad. Whether this release is enough of an upgrade over the years old DVD release is the question only you can answer. Worth a look.