Swing ‘n a miss

Kyle Smith

I feel bad for “Fever Pitch.”

Fate’s twisted designs have passed the Curse of the Bambino onto the Farrelly brothers’ amiable Red Sox romance. This is probably the result of trading some legitimate actor for Jimmy Fallon, who continues to prove himself an unfunny, talentless hack. Fortunately, he isn’t endlessly mugging himself, which makes him kind of likable in that Adam Sandler circa “The Wedding Singer” way.

The bad luck is that while principal photography got underway last fall, nobody could have foreseen the improbable Red Sox World Series victory. This is like having Jesus show up at the premiere of “The Passion of the Christ.” The Farrelly brothers’ New England-centric ignorance shielded them from more glaring athletic failures, most obviously the Chicago Cubs’ 97 years of futility but also on the small-scale, like Northwestern’s eternal struggle to reach the postseason.

This dichotomous story of “Fever Pitch” is between two irreconcilable forces: a belief in never-ending loserdom and the triumph of decades of perseverance. The movie constantly argues about how being a Red Sox fan is about dealing with loss and recovering, but it must also cope with the heroics of last October. In every romantic comedy, the two characters are compatible but ultimately come to grips with their differences. Here, Fallon wins outright: the Sox win and he gets Barrymore. It’s really unconvincing.

And, of course, “Fever Pitch” is based on a book by England’s biggest sad bastard, Nick Hornby, whom I personally despise because he understands me completely. From the music-obsessed “High Fidelity” to the unsure romantics of “About a Boy” and back again to music in his mix-tape-as-essay “Songbook,” Hornby continues to steal my ideas and say them far better than I can. And while his original novel was about soccer, it translates nicely to American fandom, beginning with the title’s nice pun.

The Farrellys are brilliant, but they need to get their edge back. Their films, unfairly lambasted for crude humor, have always been sweet-hearted and optimistic — “Fever Pitch” more so than others. They also understand humility and melancholy, especially in “Stuck on You” and “There’s Something About Mary,” and hide it masterfully under appealing gags and fart jokes. Perhaps this is best embodied by their portrayal with the physically and mentally handicapped, something most critics take them to task over. The Farrellys may sometimes milk laughs from disabilities, but it’s more than compensated for by the compassion and sense of empowering equality given to them. The end credits to “Stuck on You” feature a speech by Ray “The Rocket” Valliere, whose terrible lisp is never funny, but whose success is moving.

The melancholy in “Fever Pitch” is, unfortunately, limited only to the Nick Hornby model of manhood on display. Which would be me.

Hornby knows that womenless would-be intellectuals drown themselves in their obsessions, which, in his/my case, are music and sports. Of course, these losers always end up with beautiful women that fulfill all their desires — between Barrymore, Rachel Weisz, and that Swedish chick in “High Fidelity,” it pays to be pathetic.

“Fever Pitch” does hammer home at least one brilliant observation over relationships — the solace that men find in stability, no matter how unhealthy. Though my passion is nowhere near that of Fallon, I have invested enough in the University of Missouri Tigers football team that a loss ruins a beautiful Saturday. Like Fallon, I love the Tigers because sports teams give us a regional identity. Much like music, sports define a time and a place. Teams provide stability, a link to the past and the present; I’d rather have an entire fall of sad Saturdays than no Tigers at all.

There is one great, macabre scene in “Fever Pitch.” After a fallout with Barrymore, Fallon sits in front of a television watching the ball slip between Bill Buckner’s legs in the 1986 World Series again and again. For those who understand, this is a doomsday scenario filled with enough pathos to make Julia Roberts rip her hair out and run naked in the streets. Even more unlikely is that it drew some level of emotional feeling out of me directed toward Fallon.

“Fever Pitch” is full of awkward jokes, lacks any sort of style, is void of the Farrellys’ typical belly laughs, and just generally fails. But it does understand, more so than other films, the way that men so often confuse the things most important to them. It’s just that, usually, the Red Sox don’t win the World Series and the guy doesn’t get to sleep with Drew Barrymore.4

Communication junior Kyle Smith is the PLAY film columnist. He can be reached at [email protected]