Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Movie Review: Fever Pitch

In the course of my job, which deals with marketing videotapes and DVDs, I read a pretty fair amount of movie reviews. In the main, I find them astonishing. A lot of critics seem to nitpick, almost as if they're looking for something negative to say. I think the single most common failing of most movie critics, though, is neglecting to take into consideration the movie's intended purpose. Not every movie sets out to be The Godfather, after all. If a movie is intended to be nothing more than an entertaining movie for a date, for instance, I think critics would be well served to concern themselves mainly with whether or not it achieves that goal, rather than criticizing every flaw that makes a movie unworthy of being considered a masterpiece.

Such is the case with Fever Pitch. I almost never read reviews in advance of seeing a movie, for two reasons: first, I don't want to have my opinions tainted by someone I've never met and whose tastes likely don't match mine; and secondly, I want the whole movie to come as a surprise. Reviewers are generally pretty good about not giving spoilers, but I really try to go in with as little knowledge as possible. After I've seen a movie, on the other hand, I occasionally like to read reviews, to see how well my opinion matches the "experts," and also to see if they can provide any insights I may have missed.

So, after Brandi and I caught Fever Pitch on Saturday night, I checked out some reviews yesterday and was a little surprised by what I found. They weren't overwhelmingly bad, but they were decidedly mixed. Some critics thought the movie was good; others, not so much. I was just surprised by the direction taken by many of those who didn't like it. They seemed to expect far too much from this movie, especially given that the creators of the film have also made such classics as Dumb and Dumber.

I went into the movie expecting a nice, entertaining, diversionary popcorn movie, and that's exactly what I got. Actually, I had a little bit of trepidation because I generally find Jimmy Fallon to be not very funny and a little bit annoying, but that was balanced by the presence of Drew Barrymore, whom I like very much. As it turned out, I liked the movie very much as well.

The main reason I liked the movie to much is because I identified with it strongly. I'm not a Red Sox fan, but I am a passionate fan of the teams I do follow (and I think several people close to me just nominated that as "Understatement of the Year"). I've been that guy who looks at the team schedule before making other, potentially awesome plans (although nothing quite as extravagant as a trip to Paris). I've been that guy whose team spirit has nearly (or perhaps even entirely) destabilized relationships. In many ways, I'm still that guy, as much as I try to take it down a notch. I recognized Fallon's character because he's me, and the writers of the script absolutely nailed it.

One thing I appreciated about this movie is that it did not make Fallon's character out to be a loser. There are too many movies like that already. It's easy to characterize a die-hard fan (of anything, not just sports: as someone with a deep appreciation for all things Star Wars as well as sports, I know this only too well) in a certain negative light, and this movie didn't take that road. Sure, he's got season tickets and never misses a game, not to mention his amazing memorabilia collection, but he still "has a life." He's not holed up in his basement, on Internet message boards all day, or anything like that. He's got friends, he teaches honors geometry, and he's dating a hot chick. Granted, his relationship with the Sox almost costs him that relationship with the girl, and you could argue that there's a certain loser-ish quality to that, but I would argue against you. The movie explores that, at any rate. I'm just glad that they took the character in the direction they did: he's a more or less normal guy who happens to be a big-time fan. No big deal.

The difference between myself and those critics who panned the movie may simply be our backgrounds. I've been that guy, so I knew where the movie was coming from and was totally into it. Some of these writers probably never have been that guy (or girl), and so didn't identify with it in the same way. Would I have liked the movie as much if I didn't see myself in it? Probably not. I may have liked it, but I doubt that I would have appreciated all the subtle nuances, all the things they got exactly right. I wouldn't have seen as much truth in it.

Okay, so they nailed the main character, and they also nailed the difficulties of having a committed romantic relationship under those circumstances. The movie was pretty funny, he gets the girl in the end, the Red Sox win the World Series, and the audience goes home happy. Bingo! Here we have our successful movie. Was it perfect? Of course not. Some things definitely could have been done better. Even if they had been, though, I don't think the movie was going to be nominated for any Oscars. Overall, in my critical review, the movie gets three and a half stars (out of five). It's not American Beauty or Return of the King; on the other hand, it's also not Romeo + Juliet (which may well have been the worst movie I've seen; no one can ruin a film quite like the ever-awful Leo DiCaprio).

One thing that definitely could have been done better was to make more of a connection between the relationship and the Red Sox season. Everyone has seen the commercials: this was marketed as a baseball movie, and specifically as a Red Sox movie, but baseball and the Red Sox are really just background noise, barely brought into the foreground at all. I think they missed a real bet by not better tying the ups and downs of the relationship to the ups and downs of the season. There was an attempt at that, I think, but it wasn't very prominent. They could have done a lot more with it.

Another thing they could have done is focus more on Barrymore's character's counter-obsession, which is work. Again, they did a little bit with this, but perhaps not as much as they could have. It seemed as though Fallon's Red Sox obsession was an obstacle to their relationship, whereas Barrymore's work obsession was just an obstacle to his obsession. Just to change it up, I think they could have reversed roles for a short sequence, just to show that there are other things which can get in the way of a relationship. Work may seem more important than baseball (to some people, I guess), but when it boils down, anything that is taken too far can be a detriment to a relationship.

Those are minor quibbles, though. I liked the movie the way it was, and I liked it a lot. When it comes out on DVD, I'm sure I'll add it to my collection. It may not be as much a sports movie as Field of Dreams or Hoosiers, but it's no less enjoyable for all of that.

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