Fever Pitch is an All-American sweetheart of a movie. Though it was mostly ignored by film critics and audiences who seemed to think the Farrelly Brothers were slumming for directing a Drew Barrymore vehicle, the movie is actually a joy to watch and holds a unique place in the Farrelly Brothers filmography.
Set during the historic 2004 season of the Boston Red Sox, Fever Pitch is about a love triangle between a diehard baseball fan named Ben (Jimmy Fallon), a lovable career woman named Lindsey (Drew Barrymore) and the tragic Sox who haven’t (or hadn’t – spoiler alert) won a World Series since 1918. The movie was produced by Barrymore’s own production company, Flower Films, at the height of her early millennial popularity and it maintains the career progression Barrymore began for herself back in 1999 when she started the company with Never Been Kissed.
Almost like the pictures made during the studio system years when they had film units dedicated to each popular star, a Drew Barrymore branded movie can be counted on to be light, usually shot on location and nearly always feature her as an independent woman who has a terrific sense of humor. With grace and her trademark optimism, Barrymore has also transformed into a positive role model and iconic women’s picture heroine by appearing in empowering, often feminist-minded films like Riding in Cars with Boys and Whip It. And mostly in comedies! No matter what she’s doing, Barrymore is always in control of her image and how her career and character decisions affect her (female) fans and audience. Barrymore is our Mary Pickford.
That being said, the most vital element of a Barrymore flick is sincerity. Both her and her movies would be nothing without their earnest, plucky honesty and goodwill. Similarly, the Farrelly brothers, even with their vulgar charms and numbskull wit, are perhaps the sincerest filmmakers working in movies today. In-between Jeff Daniels spurting drippy shit into the broken toilet in Dumb and Dumber, Ben Stiller getting his junk tangled up in blue in There’s Something About Mary and Jim Carrey accusing a woman of having a yeast infection in Me, Myself and Irene (“What’s wrong? A little too much cheese on the taco?”), there’s always an incredible amount of heart and unpretentious storytelling and characterization at the core of their movies. They might make films about misfits constantly battling their own stupidity and/or bad luck, but the Farrelly Brothers love their dumb ass creations and would never sully their worlds with needless cynicism. Harry, Lloyd, Ted, Charlie Baileygates and the rest of ’em are in enough trouble without being in the control of filmmakers who look down on their foolishness.
On the surface, Fever Pitch doesn’t really seem like a typical Farrelly Brothers movie. It’s not very dirty, hardly any bodily fluids are spewed and the romance between Ben and Lindsey is relatively conventional because they’re not conjoined twins or morbidly obese and both possess full use of their bodily and mental faculties. However, it’s not really a typical Drew Barrymore movie either. She’s not only the straight man to Fallon’s kinda-cute-kinda-creepy fanaticism, she’s also just a reasonably normal woman who rarely embarrasses herself and has a solid group of equally normal female friends.
Like the most loving moments in the Farrelly Brothers filmography – the “freaks” diner scene in Stuck on You, Moe refusing to leave Larry and Curly at the orphanage in The Three Stooges – the best scenes in Fever Pitch occur when there’s a true sense of community and family involved. Filmed on location at Fenway Park and Busch Stadium during actual games, the Farrelly’s not only capture the magic of watching live baseball, but the collective feeling of camaraderie that happens when you watch it with a group of people. Whether they’re singing “Sweet Caroline” during a montage full of heartfelt images like little girls holding up hand-drawn posters, fathers and sons cheering their team on or Boston at large, the band of baseball kooks surrounding the love story are what make Fever Pitch so charming. The movie goes to great lengths to say that baseball is just a game, which is true. However, baseball also brings out an incredible passion, affection and feeling of togetherness in people that is rarely experienced away from the field – something that the Farrelly Brothers go to equally great lengths to say and show as well.
Through these scenes, Ben and Lindsey’s relationship acquires a sort of grandiose mythos because it not only parallels the magic of baseball season, but it parallels that Boston Red Sox season. The season where the underdogs finally became top dogs against the St. Louis Cardinals. No one knew what would happen after the regular season ended and the Red Sox went to the playoffs, let alone the World Series. They had to keep shooting no matter what happened and their love story corrals that spur-of-the-moment energy. Love has to conquer all if your team wins the World Series after an eighty-six year old slump.
Similarly, utilizing what Peter Farrelly called “real guerilla filmmaking” during the ball games, the couple’s tale acquires a grandiose mythos visually by actually looking like they’re at baseball games. During every stadium scene, the movie transitions from the clean, safe appearance of a traditional romantic comedy into an almost digital looking, somewhat grainy aesthetic with natural lighting, no fancy sound equipment and some occasional shaky cam action. These scenes, while not as shocking as the moment when Barrymore gets smashed in the face with a foul ball, are quite surprising and give the movie an almost meta-edge because it feels like we’re watching the characters watch themselves inside their own little baseball world. By using the same method to shoot the baseball action, the Farrelly’s are showing us it’s a world that Ben and Lindsey clearly belong in just as much as the players themselves. They take the meta dynamic a step farther a few times when they actually show the couple on TV – the first occurs when Ben is on ESPN during spring training in Florida and Lindsey watches him act like an idiot, the second when Lindsey sees herself get hit in the face with the ball and a third time during the movie’s romantic finale.
And what a finale it is. In order to stop Ben from selling his precious season tickets, Lindsey drops down onto the field from the center field seats, breaking both high heels, and makes a mad dash across the grass to tear up the contract he’s about to sign. She outruns security, uses an outfielder as a shield and even takes a swipe at one guy with her purse. It’s outlandish, yes, but it’s a sublime ending befitting both the Farrelly’s and Barrymore’s sensibilities. Like two dumb guys driving across the country just to give a beautiful woman her briefcase back or a nerdy female reporter desperately waiting to receive her first kiss in front of a huge audience, Lindsey’s sprint showcases not only her love for Ben, but the crazy, larger-than-life baseball-romantic-family love everyone around them feels and is cheering for. From the roaring crowd at Fenway to those rooting them on from the comfort of their own homes, the kith and kin in Fever Pitch embody everything the Farrelly’s, Barrymore and baseball are all about.