For Love of the Game

The Farrelly brothers swing straight and hit the sweet spot.

Fever Pitch
Jimmy and Drew: Not nearly as annoying as you expected.
Jimmy and Drew: Not nearly as annoying as you expected.
Last year, the Simmons family of Needham, Massachusetts, just outside Boston, sent Christmas cards for the first time in more than 20 years. "We send out Xmas cards about as often as the Red Sox win the World Series," the card very cleverly proclaimed. This movie is for them.

In truth, Fever Pitch is for anybody -- with the likely exception of Yankees fans -- who wants to see a sweet, ingratiating romantic comedy that asks that age-old question . . . no, not can a man love two women at the same time, but can he love a woman as much as he does his favorite sports team? And can a woman put up with a man who morphs into a raging lunatic six months out of the year?

Although the movie is based on Nick Hornby's semi-autobiographical novel about an Englishman torn between soccer and romance (a 1996 British film, starring Colin Firth, similarly revolved around the protagonist's beloved Manchester United club), anybody who has ever lived in Boston will know that the depiction of obsessed fans is no exaggeration.

Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly (There's Something About Mary and Me, Myself and Irene), this incarnation stars Saturday Night Live alum Jimmy Fallon as high school math teacher Ben Wrightman, who takes his honors geometry class on a field trip and meets successful corporate consultant Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore, looking svelte and sexy). She thinks he's cute and funny, but when he asks her out, she hesitates, snobbish about his lowly job.

Ben shows up at her apartment for their first date to find Lindsey violently sick to her stomach. He not only cleans her up and deodorizes the bathroom, but also brushes the dog's teeth. How can she not love a guy like that? The romance picks up steam; the only question that she and her friends have is, how is this great guy still single?

When spring rolls around, she discovers the reason: Ben is a die-hard Red Sox fan, and no woman has ever been able to compete with them -- or been willing, ultimately, to put up with his passion for the team. Lindsey can live with the Red Sox bed sheets, towels, posters, and memorabilia, but when Ben chooses spring training in Florida over meeting her parents and then rejects a romantic weekend in Paris, rather than miss a game, she starts to reassess their relationship.

Adorable is more likely what you'd expect of Barrymore, but Fallon proves just as sweetly ingratiating here. The two play well off each another, which makes their lack of sexual chemistry especially noticeable. Fever Pitch has earned a PG-13 rating, but, despite a few quick kisses, there is a chasteness that seems almost unrealistic.

Of course, the Farrelly brothers have never been known for their sophistication, romantic or otherwise. Perhaps it's more the absence of politically incorrect and sophomoric humor that makes Fever Pitch feel unexpectedly wholesome.

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