Register Tuesday | December 18 | 2018

No Joy in Hackville

<i>Fever Pitch</i> Fouls One Off

I am extremely competitive. I cannot participate in sports, especially team sports, because I take them too seriously. When I'm playing, say, volleyball, I think winning is the only thing that matters, and I start to loathe the worst player-who I refuse to believe might be me. I don't watch college basketball anymore, because in high school I was obsessed with the University of Cincinnati Bearcats and watching them play (and lose at the last second) turned me into an anxious, sweaty wreck. I get nervous watching the results episode of American Idol. No no no, not Nadia!

ILLUSTRATION BY MORGAN CHARLES

But if watching the Final Four is heroin, then watching Hoosiers is methadone. I get my fix by watching sports movies. And I love sports movies, whether they're about sports-All the Rights Moves-"sports"-The Cutting Edge-or something else entirely that is treated as a sport-8 Mile, Flashdance or The Big Tease. I identify with the hero, because he or she is almost always the underdog or becomes the underdog at some point in the movie. I love that bizarre empathy I feel for those brats in The Mighty Ducks or for Torrance in Bring It On. It's a form of cheer sex, I think.

It's strange how much I like baseball movies, because I don't like baseball. It's not just because the sport is boring and the players are overpaid-that's true of golf and football, which I don't loathe. No, it's my commie-pinko-fag politics.

I especially love baseball movies-and so I was thrilled that I was going to see Fever Pitch, the Farrelly Brothers-directed film starring Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon. I was hoping for a sillier, dirtier Bull Durham, maybe an updated Major League. I didn't expect The Natural or The Bad News Bears, because you can't have expectations that high.

It's strange how much I like baseball movies, because I don't like baseball. It's not just because the sport is boring and the players are overpaid-that's true of golf and football, which I don't loathe. No, it's my commie-pinko-fag politics. Baseball is the most American of sports, and, here in the US, you're committing treason if you don't love it. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, baseball makes Americans behave worse than anything else (besides oil or the French). You see, I don't hate the actual game or the players, both of which have been great fodder for stories I've loved. I hate the fans. I hate people who haven't realized that competitiveness has taken over their lives.

I grew up in Cincinnati and have lived in two other cities, Boston and New York. These are, arguably, the biggest baseball towns in the US, and so I've been surrounded by beer-bloated, foam-fingered, stat-quoting, violently partisan weirdoes all my life. The most grating sounds I can imagine are the bellowing exhortations made to baseball players on a TV screen; followed closely by men discussing how they would have managed the team the night before, a sound I am usually forced to hear inside an elevator; and then there's horrible scream of victory-that cacophonous mix of subway brakes, out-of-tune trombones and arrogance.

In other words, I shouldn't have been excited to see Fever Pitch. I guess I hadn't paid enough attention to the excessively advertised plot: A career girl must decide whether or not her boyfriend's obsession with the Boston Red Sox is something she can handle. The boy must decide between the Sox and the girl. This isn't a movie about baseball; it's a movie about being a fan. Shit.

There were moments in Fever Pitch so awkward that I wondered whether I was seeing a rough cut.

Ben, Jimmy Fallon's character in the film, is a rare creature-an endearing fanatic. He seems to be aware that he's a little sick in the head, so it's sweetly funny that when you see his apartment, a shrine to the Boston Red Sox, you don't gasp, you giggle. He's also witty, kind, helpful and a math teacher. It's easy to see why Lindsey (Barrymore) would fall in love with him. But she falls for him during the winter, the off-season, and the conflict comes when she confronts "Summer Ben," the Red Sox nutcase.

Once Ben and Lindsey get together, the movie becomes a series of fights about whether Ben loves Lindsey more than the Sox. Some of the situations are funny-like when Ben makes a fool of himself at a restaurant while trying not to hear the score of a game. But mostly, his obsessive behaviour is childish. At one point, they have passionate sex and Ben tells Lindsey that he has just had the best night of his life, but when he finds out that he missed a great come-from-behind Sox victory over the Yankees, he says it's the worst night of his life. And he means it. I don't know why she takes him back at the end, other than to complete the romantic comedy formula. But then again, I don't understand fanaticism, so I can't understand Ben's love for the Red Sox either.

I should, however, understand Lindsey's love for Ben, summer or winter versions. But I don't. Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon don't have much chemistry. Fallon is a better actor and a better comedian than Adam Sandler, but Barrymore and Sandler's rapport-in The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates-is much more natural. In Fever Pitch, Barrymore seems fake. Maybe I just don't buy her as a high-powered executive (frankly, I don't buy her as one of Charlie's Angels, either).

Despite Barrymore's affinity for physical comedy (she's a pro at getting hit with a baseball), the film's problems are her fault. As the producer of the film, she hired the Farrelly Brothers to direct it. These two guys are the hackiest hacks in Hackville. That Shallow Hal and There's Something About Mary were good was surely an accident of casting. Those films do not succeed because the Farrellys have any ability to coax a performance, structure a scene or line up a camera shot. There were moments in Fever Pitch so awkward that I wondered whether I was seeing a rough cut.

And yet, the movie has been getting rave reviews. Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly gave it an A (and he gave Million Dollar Baby an A-). Ebert & Roeper gave it "big thumbs up." Maybe I'm just being competitive, but Fever Pitch is not a good movie.

Ted Gideonse has written about the arts (and other stuff) for Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Salon and the Advocate. He lives in Brooklyn and keeps a blog, the Gideonse Bible. Bring Me the Axe appears every other Friday.