The Farrelly brothers are growing up, which in this case isn't a bad thing. With a tacked-on ending made necessary by the Boston Red Sox's improbable World Series run last fall, "Fever Pitch" proves a charming romantic comedy against "A Beautiful Mind"-type framework -- the "illness" here being a grown man's addiction to baseball.
The Farrelly brothers are growing up, which in this case isn’t a bad thing. With a tacked-on ending made necessary by the Boston Red Sox’s improbable World Series run last fall, “Fever Pitch” proves a charming romantic comedy against “A Beautiful Mind”-type framework — the “illness” here being a grown man’s addiction to baseball. Likely to appeal to both men and women with its mix of sports mania, “Aw” moments and occasional flourishes of Farrelly-esque goofiness, this genial rookie should keep turnstiles clicking long enough to be scored as a hit, if not a blast into the cheap seats.
Accommodating men’s infatuation with sports, actually, is an under-utilized device, especially considering the pangs of recognition that greeted the moment in “Diner” when a Baltimore Colts fan subjects his would-be bride to a trivia test.
Cleverly adapted from Nick Hornby’s book about his obsession with soccer, “Fever Pitch” seizes on the long-suffering Red Sox loyalists, laboring under the curse of the Bambino, and wonders whether a true die-hard can find love. It’s an oddly logical impediment to romance, adding a quirky wrinkle to boy meets girl, foul ball hits girl, boy loses girl, etc.
Jimmy Fallon captures the right touch of boyishness as Ben, an affable if slightly nerdy schoolteacher who begins wooing Lindsey (Drew Barrymore), an ambitious, promotion-seeking corporate exec. At first, the class differences appear to represent a small hiccup, but Lindsey’s snooty friend Robin (Kadee Strickland) insists there must be some darker reason why a cute, almost-30 guy is on the market.
Lindsey gets her answer soon enough, since the courtship began in the winter, before those six months that Ben devotes to the Sox — from making the pilgrimage to Florida for spring training to decorating every square inch of his apartment in team paraphernalia. Soon enough, the issue becomes whether he can modulate his interest to meet Lindsey halfway, or if she must accede to his irrational devotion to the boys of summer in order to make their relationship work.
Much like “A Beautiful Mind,” the problem is that Ben can be a dreamboat one moment and a loon the next — pitching a near-fit during dinner with Lindsey’s parents (James B. Sikking and JoBeth Williams) so he won’t hear the final score of the Red Sox game, which he’s taping. As a practical matter, given the duration and frequency of the baseball schedule, there’s not much room for a truly committed Sox supporter to get a life, as much as Ben would like to have one.
Although the Red Sox obviously have a storied history of frustration, Ben’s eccentricity could be applied to virtually any obsessive sports fan. At the same time, the Farrellys, along with writing tandem Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, have toned down their customary gross-out excesses (albeit with a few tips of the cap in that direction), resulting in a film not as howlingly wicked as, say, “There’s Something About Mary,” but likable nonetheless.
After stalling out in “Taxi,” “Saturday Night Live” alum Fallon exhibits real bigscreen potential, overcoming the not-insignificant challenge of keeping Ben from being unsympathetic. Barrymore, meanwhile, slips breezily into another romantic comedy role that accentuates the former, and the filmmakers have assembled a nicely fleshed out supporting roster, including Ben’s extended family at the ballpark, whose level of dedication mirrors his own.
Enough shooting was done at Boston’s Fenway Park to convey a sense of authenticity as well as the ambience of the games, though fully appreciating what transpired with the team will probably be limited to baseball aficionados. That said, “Fever Pitch” is one of those nicely grooved pitches with which even a novice ought to be able to connect.