Fever Pitch (1997) and Fever Pitch (2005) (review)

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There’s Something About Baseball

But you’d be forgiven for not be able to determine what that something is from Fever Pitch. I could not possibly care less about soccer (what the rest of the world calls football) than I already do, but the 1997 British film Fever Pitch made me understand and appreciate the passion devoted football fans feel in a way that the American-baseball-ization of the film can’t do… and I like baseball. That moment that every baseball fan knows, when you come up out of the gloom of the corridors of the stadium and see the green grass for the first time that day and you’re struck by the promise all that green grass represents… that moment is there in the ’97 film, it just happens to occur over a football pitch. There is no such moment of reverence and awe in this new Fever Pitch, in a movie that’s supposed to be all about reverence and awe.
If the word “pitch” weren’t coincidentally associated with both football and baseball, allowing the producers of this new film to retain the title, you’d never know there was any relationship between the two films. It’s only in the barest of descriptions that they demonstrate any similarity at all: a guy who’s a fanatical supporter of a professional sports team falls for a girl who just doesn’t get it. One film is a subtle, delightful exploration of the touchingly awkward and emotionally genuine negotiation of compromises with which any couple can sympathize. The other is a loud, obnoxious collection of pratfalls, testicle jokes, and vomit-eating dogs. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out which film is which.

Oh, all right, I’ll tell you. Even though codirector Peter Farrelly says, “This is a good, old-fashioned comedy. It doesn’t call for big, broad gags and outlandish humor,” he obviously doesn’t believe this himself, because he and his brother, Bobby (the joint perpetrators of such cinematic atrocities as Shallow Hal), have leeched all the charm and much of the honestly out of the British film and replaced it with such howlers as a woman getting punched in the face by her best friend, a woman getting knocked unconscious by a foul baseball, a man subjected to unwanted shaving of his pubic region, and the aforementioned hungry canine. (Blame is apportioned also to screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel [Robots]; at least Nick Hornby [About a Boy] got to write the script for the British film, which is based on his novel. I’m sure he’d like nothing better than if no one connected this new movie to him.) Granted, yes, the Farrellys have pulled back a bit — this isn’t a nonstop grossout, and in what is perhaps a sign of incipient maturity on the part of the filmmakers, the doggie consumption of puke occurs offscreen and is only overheard. But that’s like saying that a little Black Death ain’t so bad. No movie needs unwanted pubic shaving.

The worst scene may be, though, the one in which Drew Barrymore tells Jimmy Fallon, “You have a lyrical soul.” I’m not even sure Jimmy Fallon is human — I think he was extruded from plastic in a factory in Korea — never mind having a soul, never mind having a lyrical soul.

Yeah, the Brits got Colin Firth as the avid fan of the Arsenal football squad, and we get Jimmy Fallon (Taxi) as the Red Sox devotee. Is there is less charismatic or more robotic “actor” working today? Oh, and he’s got no sense of comic timing, either — the scene in which his Boston schoolteacher asks Barrymore’s (Duplex, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle) “business consultant” out for their first date is squirm-inducing in its awfulness, though it’s meant to be funny. (In the British film, both the guy and the gal, played by Ruth Gemmell, were schoolteachers; here, as if having vastly different ideas about how one spends one’s free time and extra money weren’t enough of a relationship obstacle, the gal has to be a “business consultant,” which means she makes more money and is more ambitious than the guy.)

Oh, the cartoon characters that Fallon and Barrymore portray eventually resolve their differences, but that’s incidental to the cavalcade of physical abuse and random humiliation that precedes it. We should really be insulted, as Americans, that everything had to be so dumbed down and cartooned up for us. Why do we need a narrator to explain things to us — like how the guys got into football/baseball in the first place — that were perfectly obvious in the British film? Imagine setting a paint-by-numbers next to the Mona Lisa, and that’s how dramatic the contrast is between Fever Pitch and Fever Pitch. The 1997 film made me see both points of view in this romantic dilemma — I both understood Firth’s dedication and wanted to tell him to grow the hell up; I both appreciated Gemmell’s frustration with his “hobby” and wanted to tell her to lighten the hell up. But the 2005 film doesn’t have such human things as points of view; it has carefully plotted and constructed character arcs that are genuine only in the sense that they are required to tell a theoretically satisfying story… but Fallon’s and Barrymore’s characters have no nuance, no shades of gray. Everything here is clearly spelled out so no one misses the obvious. But that’s the American way, isn’t is? We don’t do anything small or less than in-your-face.

Fever Pitch (1997)
viewed at home on a small screen
rated R for language

Fever Pitch (2005)
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers
rated PG-13 for crude and sexual humor, and some sensuality
official site | IMDB

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