Thursday, March 14, 2019

Reserved Seating Swings for the Fences: FEVER PITCH

by Adam Riske and Rob DiCristino
The review duo who wanna know what’s up with the stains on Fallon’s BoSox hat.

Rob: Welcome to Reserved Seating. I’m Rob DiCristino.

Adam: And I’m Adam Riske.
Rob: Our summer (well, early spring) baseball series continues with 2005’s Fever Pitch, based on the 1992 Nick Hornby memoir of the same name. Directed by the Farrelly brothers, it stars Jimmy Fallon as Ben, a Boston Red Sox-obsessed math teacher who strikes up an unlikely romance with workaholic businesswoman Lindsey (Drew Barrymore). As they navigate the usual romantic comedy ups and downs, they’ll have to decide if they’re willing to make room for each other in their obsessive-compulsive lives.

This was my first viewing of Fever Pitch, and while I can’t go as far as to call it a good romantic comedy, there’s certainly enough charm and baseball ephemera to make for a fun time. Adam, you said offline that Fever Pitch is an old favorite of yours. How did it hold up on this viewing?

Adam: It held up this time. I’ll explain. I’ve had a tumultuous journey with Fever Pitch over the years. I went to see it opening weekend back in April 2005. It was the perfect time for me to see this movie. I love baseball. I was excited that a new season was about to begin (it ended up being THE BEST SEASON because my Chicago White Sox won the World Series that year) and I was at a time in my life where I was in between relationships and desperately wanted to meet my next Lindsey, so to speak. This movie checked all of my boxes back then. I also really appreciated that it got a lot right about being a baseball fan, too. Everything I enjoyed about Fever Pitch outweighed my dislike of Jimmy Fallon and the weird margin elements that come with most Farrelly Brothers films (e.g. their casting, people with orange tans).
As time wore on, I didn’t like Fever Pitch as much as in ‘05 for whatever reason. In fact, it became a movie I was embarrassed to have ever liked. Going back to it was like listening to an American Idol compilation album. It was a weird time stamp. I put Fever Pitch aside for a few years and coming back to it now was a pleasant surprise. I wound up enjoying it quite a bit again, flaws and all. It had turned the corner and become a nostalgia piece, especially of ‘04-05 baseball (e.g. I spy Kevin Millar!). As a romantic comedy, I think it works. Drew Barrymore is adorable in it and she’s a well-written character instead of a male POV manifestation. I love that she’s willing to compromise and meet her boyfriend (Fallon) halfway on a lot of things. She has some great moments, like when she doesn’t understand Spring Training (the best part of that bit being when she asks if the Red Sox ask for Fallon and his friends opinion when he says that they scout the players), when she makes a gross-out face after Fallon asks her if she wants a Fenway Frank, and when she calms Fallon down that they’re just talking and not to go off the deep end during one of their conversations. She classes up what otherwise could be a real meathead movie. This is Barrymore in Meg Ryan You’ve Got Mail mode. She can do this part in her sleep, but she has an air of professionalism that seems likebly swaggerish. It’s one of my favorite Drew Barrymore performances.

Fallon works here because he’s playing a man-baby and he annoys me as a man-baby. The character is someone who hasn’t been challenged much in life and is being forced to grow up in order to keep a woman who is more emotionally mature than he is. As a couple, the two work because each brings something unexpected and appealing out of the other that wouldn’t have come out of their personalities if they weren’t together. I rooted for them to be together, and that’s 90% of the battle in a romantic comedy. I also remember having an “A-Ha!” moment when I saw Fever Pitch in theaters because I was wondering why Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon were on the field with the Red Sox after they won the 2004 World Series. At the time I was like, “Entitled Hollywood types” and then I realized it was for a movie, so it was ok.
Rob: Johnny Damon! Jason Varitek! Honestly, just spending so much time at Fenway Park was great. I’m a Phillies fan who loves Citizens Bank Park, but Fenway is a baseball colosseum. There’s nothing like it. And while the Boston stuff is a little exaggerated (I texted you that this movie’s fake Boston accents sound like Nathan Lane impressions), I agree that Fever Pitch gets a lot of the baseball fandom stuff right. I would definitely be smelling my season tickets when they came out of the box.

I was making my usual list of logical inconsistencies (No teacher would be transporting students to a field trip in his personal car) and questions that were gnawing at me (Did they end up watching Road House, or not?), but the more I thought about it, the less I minded how often the movie falls into typical rom-com tropes. I wasn’t bothered by how goofy and formulaic it was because, as you said, the leads have decent chemistry and a genuine conflict in the way of their relationship. My major issue was with the pacing and exploration of that conflict: There’s about thirty minutes of wheel spinning in the middle of the movie, and the couple survives something earlier on that feels more catastrophic than what eventually causes the Second Act Breakup. It seemed a little out of order. It’s a minor thing, I guess. I just would have liked a bit more variety to keep the narrative propulsive.

So, I have a question: It’s well known at this point that the screenplay was rewritten to coincide with the Red Sox historic playoff run and World Series win. I didn’t even see the movie in 2005, but I knew that. It’s just that I always assumed the novel and original 1997 British film (both of which are about the lead character’s love of the Arsenal football club) were about being obsessed with teams that never won. It turns out that Arsenal won it all in 1989, and, according to the internet, both the novel and original film reflect that. How, then, were the makers of this Fever Pitch planning on ending it? There’s a pretty big shift in thematic weight depending on which ending you go with, isn’t there? Am I going insane?
Adam: The IMDB trivia said the ending had to be rewritten because the Red Sox won. If they hadn’t, I’m guessing Barrymore and Fallon would have gotten back together (it’s that kind of movie), but it would have been something where he learns his lesson, gives up his tickets for her, and that’s it. Maybe they have a baby and finally go back to Fenway and the baby makes a face where the audience goes “Oh no, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree!” followed by a Looney Tunes iris. Just a wild guess.

We need to talk about how weird this movie is in its little details. What’s with the music intros and outros? There’s one where we’re going to a house party and the cue is this super emo guy singing “I’m never HAPPY WHEN IT RAAAAAIIIIINNNNSSS” and then it just fades away. Another one is when Barrymore walks in on Fallon while he’s forcing a “Who wants Yankee tickets?” dance-off on his friends and the song goes “Yowza! Yowza! Yowza!” Or near the end, after Barrymore and Fallon sleep together, we cut to her in the kitchen cooking and she’s singing “There. Are. Three. Eggs. In. A. SPANISH OMELET.” Like...these are things you cut, right? Why does Jimmy Fallon’s voice squeak whenever he goes “What are you doin’ here?” Why didn’t they go for another take of that? It sounds ADR’d, so are they deliberately including it just to fuck with me?

Rob: It feels like the vibe on set was “Look, we all know Drew is funny, and we’ve got this up-and-coming comic in Jimmy Fallon, so let’s just let loose!” Probably in the looping sessions, too. “Hey Jimmy, you got a joke for this? Throw it in!”

Adam: I mentioned earlier the “locals” casting. The Farrelly Brothers do this thing where they basically cast their east coast friends in parts too big for east coast friends and are like “See...isn’t Sarah funny???!!!!” My favorites: a) the one friend of Barrymore’s whose sole purpose is to have the button joke to end a scene (“Die you Nazi Spin bitch! or “That’s it! We’re never coming back here!”) and everyone makes a womp womp womp face; b) the JV baseball coach who’s like “[Fallon], you should coach the team next spring. The kids listen to you.” I just imagine this guy as a dude who’s at the end of his rope and the team has tuned him out. Getting Fallon to come aboard is his last chance at saving his coaching gig. One more: C) the owner of the private jet company who’s like “That sounds like just what I need” when Barrymore’s boss says she’s good at math or something. The private jet guy’s facial expression is all “Why didn’t I think of math? Math sounds pretty good.”

Did you have any favorite weird moments or side characters? Who was your favorite Red Sox player on the 2004 championship team? The correct answer is Kevin Millar.
Rob: I can’t remember exactly who it was, but I loved the woman who was like, “Who cares about Red Sox season tickets? We have CHAMPAGNE!” Her priorities were all over the place. I liked Al the Sponge Man, too. I like that his thing was sponges, and that the actor (Jack Kehler) would come to set every day and mentally prepare to be the sponge man. The man who gives sponges. As for favorite ‘04 Red Sox: Pedro Martinez had a cup of coffee with the Phils in ‘09, but he never felt like ours. Former Phillie Curt Schilling ended up being an insane bigot, so he’s out. There’s Gabe Kapler, of course, Red Sox right fielder and current Phillies manager. I’m split. My heart says Big Papi. It always does.

Where would you rank Fever Pitch among the baseball movies we’ve covered so far, and what qualities do you think are necessary for a movie to be a “baseball” movie? Outside of just references to the game, I mean.

Adam: In order of preference: A League Of Their Own, Field of Dreams, Fever Pitch, Major League, Bull Durham, Trouble With The Curve, The Jackie Robinson Story, For Love Of The Game. A baseball movie is like a porno: you know it when you see it. And people hit home runs in both.

Rob: Swap Fever Pitch with Bull Durham and I think our orders are the same.

Adam: Secret baseball shame: I like to write fake MLB Network reactions via text to one of my friends whenever a free agent signs or a big player gets traded. It’s a parody of how excited they get about everything. Want to hear my ones for Bryce Harper and Manny Machado? They are best when read in the voice of Kevin Millar on Intentional Talk (Please say yes).

Rob: Nothing would give me greater pleasure.

Manny Machado
“Manny picking The Friars. 300 large. That’s a lotta prime rib at Hunter’s Steakhouse. Splurge on sides, pistol, you’ve earned it. Make a baby tonight, you got the scratch. Sunday alternate home camo uni’s. I love it.”

“Manny’s in Diego for his big time physical with the Friars today. They’re gonna check him from the roots to the toots before he struts around La Jolla Cove. Our wolfpack has a new cub, Eric. Red carpet Hosmertality for the new face!”

Bryce Harper
“Who’s getting Bryce-aroni? Is he the SFrancisco treat? Ringing the Liberty Bell for the Phils? The Old Manny bucks from the ChiSox all guaranteed straight no chaser this time? Who’s pulling the lever on the Las Vegas jackpot? Big daddy sells merch, moves units. You want a face for your place? Harper turned MLB into The Show!”

“Hope you like music Philly fans. For 13 years, you’re playing The Harp! $330 million smackeroonies. That’s a lot of cheesesteaks. Mayor just called. No jughandles for Bryce!”

“Phillies ownership answered the call. The Bryce was right for $330 mil. City of Brotherly Love showing my brother some love, scooping up stubs and shirts at a record pace. 13 years. That’s enough time to have a baby, convert to Judaism and go Mitzvah!”

Rob: Man, that is painfully accurate. I can’t wait until Phillies fans remember that time Harper got into a fist fight with Jonathan Papelbon when they were both Nationals. As if we didn’t need more reasons to love him. Mark Ahn for B-Harp and Fever Pitch! What are we doing next week?

Adam: Our All Pacino series returns for the relatively recent and decent Danny Collins. Until next time…

Rob: These seats are reserved.


  1. I remember really liking FEVER PITCH back when we saw it, and I've only revisited it once since then. Time for a re-watch based on your piece here. Even though I am not a huge baseball follower, I was soooo excited when the Red Sox won (and of course when our White Sox won too, Adam!) and was thrilled at the idea that the filmmakers sort of had to scramble and change the ending. Movies are fun. :)

  2. My love of the movie the first time I saw it was tied up in the extended high of my beloved Red Sox winning in '04. I remember that the next day I went out and bought a new Sox hat. Not so easy here in Yankees country. I've never gone back to it. I don't know if I could. Drew Barrymore is as button-cute as ever (I rewatched MUSIC AND LYRICS last week and it still works for me), but my tolerance for Fallon has fallen off a hair-tousling cliff. Then again, baseball is pretty great...

  3. I always get very disappointed when I see this DVD in thrift stores because I hope against hope that it is the far superior original movie with Colin Firth, a much more faithful adaptation of Hornby's book about being a blighted Arsenal fan and getting to finally experience a championship in the Premier League (actually, I just went back and checked and it was Arsenal winning the First Division, just before it was reformed into the PL after the goon problems and the several seating disasters culminating in Hillsborough). Such a wonderful novel about being a fan and it's a really entertaining movie from 1997 that also has Mark Strong.

  4. Also, the best thing about the 2004 Red Sox is that they were then swept in the opening round of the playoffs the next year by the eventual World Series champions, the White Sox, who went 11-1 in the playoffs and are one of the most dominant World Series winners nobody ever talks about.

    1. Once the White Sox swept the Red Sox I knew they would win the World Series. They just needed to get over their first round jinx. What a year that was.