Title: Fever Pitch
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Romance
Director: Bobby Farrelly, Peter Farrelly
Screenwriters: Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel
Starring: Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon, Jason Spevack
Fever Pitch is the Farrely Brothers’ most innocent, straightforward romantic comedy effort, and their command of the form is astounding. They take this material, which could have been shrill, vulgar and irritating, and elevate it beyond what anyone could have expected. No one thing in Fever Pitch is substantively surprising, or even particularly profound (though it is certainly far more thoughtful than just about any of its genre compatriots), but the overall effect is remarkable: the movie is sweet, sentimental and upbeat without pandering or insulting us. It is the best Hollywood rom-com since My Best Friend’s Wedding.
God help me, I even liked Jimmy Fallon, whose obnoxious self-consciousness always put me off on Saturday Night Live. He was always the one to burst out laughing in he middle of a live sketch, which struck me as the ultimate kind of disrespect to his fellow comics and to the medium. Here, there is no sign of the immature, guffawing Fallon we know from television. He not only brings the necessary puppy-dog likability to his role of a rabid Red Sox fan trying to date an ambitious professional, but he has a couple of moments that border on the heartbreaking. Watch his reaction when Drew Barrymore’s Lindsey first says “I didn’t know just how big this Red Sox thing was with you.”
This also illustrates the Farrelys’ ability to blindside you. Most of their movies at least rudimentarily follow genre convention; they’re often “low-brow,” whatever that means, and give off a distinct “anything for a laugh” vibe. But in the wonderful Stuck on You, and now Fever Pitch, they have revealed a penchant to, in the midst of all this, throw out a scene of such stark, heartfelt detail, such sudden truth, that we are not sure quite how to respond. Here, we watch Fallon’s Ben have a raw, panicked reaction to something he was expecting and dreading, and we realize that though these characters are stuck in a Farrely Brothers conceit (or, in this case, a Nick Hornby conceit as interpreted by the Farrelys), they’re real, and the filmmakers care enough about them to let them exist on the screen.
There are a few moments like that in Fever Pitch, but the entire movie is a gem in all its semi-conventional romantic comedy splendor. It is sweet, genuinely sweet, and not the manufactured kind of treacle that merits the euphemism “cute.” It’s farfetched and drawn in broad strokes, but the characters’ motives and emotions are real. We sense the protagonists’ exasperation, their dedication and routine being sorely tested, and their affection for each other, not waning despite absurd obstacles in its path. They have fights, but they aren’t overblown movie showdowns, with people throwing lettuce and slamming doors; there are apologies, attempts to make amends, genuine honesty. The characters drive the plot.
That brings us to the ending, which is the sort of fairy-tale resolution that would ordinarily make me want to vomit. Here it is handled with such care and grace that I nearly cried. The mere act of the camera gently following Barrymore as she hoofs it to her lover almost got me going. This isn’t the sort of love-conquers-all ending that has been furnished because the formula commands it and because test screening audiences want it. It flows from the characters and from the rest of the movie; it makes sense, it works, it is true.
There is good sentimentality and bad sentimentality. Fever Pitch earns every second of its unabashed, ceaselessly positive romanticism. It pays its dues, it is careful and meticulous and involved at every step of the way. The Farrelys made themselves a household name with simple and raunchy, if likable, gross-out comedies, but with their last two films, they have made forays into thoughtful, character-driven material without surrendering their penchant gimmicky plots. It’s a remarkable achievement, and I am now expecting their follow-up to be a full-on masterpiece.