City Paper is not for tourists
The most heart-swelling, eye-misting moments in Fever Pitch have everything to do with love—but nothing to do with the movie’s main couple. As the kissy-faces in the Farrelly brothers’ latest, Jimmy Fallon and Drew Barrymore are genial but generic, mere archetypes in yet another boy-meets-girl story that starts sweet, goes sour, then turns sweet again. You know exactly where their relationship is going, and you don’t much care.
But as far as the kind of passion that leads a grown man to wrap his legs around a delivery driver in a full-on body hug? That could only come from a lifelong devotion to a sports team, and you’d have to be a heartless bastard—or perhaps a Yankees fan—not to feel Fever Pitch’s love.
Loosely based on a Nick Hornby book, Fever Pitch translates the British author’s obsession with soccer into a Bostonian’s experiences as “one of God’s most pathetic creatures”—a Red Sox fan. It also, thanks to some hasty reshooting, turns that bittersweet tale into something more appropriate to the team’s celebratory 2004 season. Ben (Fallon) is a lowly schoolteacher—but the cool, fun kind, of course—who meets nonspecific businesswoman Lindsey (Barrymore) when he brings his students into her workplace to prove to them that, yes, math can have some usefulness in real life.
He initially assumes that the high-powered looker won’t give him the time of day because of his profession. And even after they spend the next few winter months in puppy-love bliss, Ben still doesn’t feel home-free: As spring training nears, he cautiously informs Lindsey of his BoSox mania, a fixation so extreme that no other woman has ever put up with it. Lindsey, naturally, tells him not to worry—she’s not like those other chicks. In fact, she thinks fanboys are romantic—until, that is, she sees Ben on ESPN, jumping around and generally acting as fanboys do. Cue wide-eyed horror.
Unsurprisingly, scriptwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, the duo behind Robots, City Slickers, and A League of Their Own, bring a bit of the last’s “There’s no crying in baseball!” attitude to Fever Pitch’s portrayal of women and sports. Besides her initial misunderstanding of what it means to be a hard-core fan, Lindsey, smart in every other way, assumes that Ben’s annual spring-training trip means that he gets to play with the Sox. Could a successful woman who’s about to turn “20-10”—even one who would use that retchingly cutesy term—actually believe that? At least the story gains some heft by asking whether an all-consuming devotion to a sport is any different from a fast-tracker’s 80-hour workweek and by making some valid points about concessions in relationships.
That last part’s not exactly new territory for the recently mature Farrellys, who explored similar themes in both Stuck on You and Shallow Hal. And few should be surprised that the only gross-out touch is some tastefully off-camera vomiting. Indeed, the only real vestige from the Dumb & Dumber days is the relentless—and relentlessly feel-good—guycentricity. Even a casual follower of any team that has “raised losing to an art form” will relate to Fever Pitch’s portrayal of the roller-coaster of elation and heartbreak that comes with loyalty: the anticipation of a new season, the treasure chest of tickets that the UPS man so nicely delivers, the gut-wrench when the boys seem to be breathing their last in the playoffs.
Whether such outsized love of the game (and girl) should have been placed on Fallon’s narrow shoulders is another matter. Together, he and rom-com queen Barrymore are…well, nice enough, and sometimes funny. But in a genre that depends so much on chemistry, charm, and our willingness to believe that some people have a Very Special Destiny, being unexceptional doesn’t make you an Everycouple—it makes you forgettable.
Fever Pitch closes with footage of the postgame pandemonium following the Sox’s World Series win, accompanied by a raucous Dropkick Murphys cover of “Tessie,” the team anthem. It’s a scene so jubilant you stop paying attention to the fictional couple celebrating along with the real fans—and that’s truly something to cheer for.
There’s also a romance of sorts in Dust to Glory, a documentary about the arduous annual race known as the Baja 1000. After a couple of interview subjects open the film by unleashing a litany of adjectives—“beautiful,” “scary,” “mystical”—to describe the Mexican desert where the competition takes place, one finally says that the love/hate dynamic the treacherous area inspires is most akin to a “girl that breaks your heart.”
Dust to Glory then spends its remaining 90-plus minutes proving that the metaphor is apt: Every year, some 1,200 pumped-up participants return to race, despite knowing that there’s a good chance that more than just their hearts will end up broken. Offering a whole lot of danger and very little payoff, the daylong Baja is open to any competitor with any vehicle—dune buggies, motorcycles, Volkswagen bugs, and indescribable Frankencars are all welcome in the 1,000-mile race. Both no-names and big names, including NASCAR vets Mario Andretti and Robby Gordon, regularly compete. And though most vehicles make their way through the course driven in shifts by a team of operators, in the 2003 race documented in the movie, one particularly loony biker—frequent Baja champion Mike “Mouse” McCoy—decided to go the 18-hour trek alone.
No matter their experience or transport, however, all competitors face the same task: high-tailing it through silt-blinding paths that remain open to traffic, cows, and thousands of spectators, most of whom think nothing of standing right in the middle of the unrailed raceways until just before a vehicle blows through.
The director of surfing documentary Step Into Liquid and son of Endless Summer filmmaker Bruce Brown, Dana Brown is clearly in his element with Dust to Glory. Though a day in this desert is no day at the beach, the Baja enthusiasts captured by Brown’s camera have the same laid-back vibe—and professed inability to devote themselves to, say, golf—as the big-wave surfers who know full well that every chance they get to do what they love may be their last. (As one racer puts it, “In Baja, if you’re dumb, you better be tough.”) Add the vehicle-fastened cameras that offer the driver’s (frequently compromised) view of every dizzying spinout and stomach-churning negotiation, and that adrenaline-fueled addiction is no longer so difficult to understand.
As in Step Into Liquid, Brown tries mightily to theorize about What It All Really Means, both with his sometimes cheesy narration—“It’s not about a race, it’s about the race—the human race!”—and well-edited comments from his subjects. There are remarks about the perspective the race gives you on life’s more mundane problems (“What’s the worst that can happen—somebody says no to a job? Well, I almost just got killed 40 times”) and the musings of a wife who suggests that even if she were to tell her husband to stop racing, he’d probably get killed driving along the freeway.
Unlike the great big ruminations of surfers in Step Into Liquid, which ultimately sounded inspired by too much sun, many of the statements in Dust to Glory make good sense. The block-party spirit that dominates the Baja 1000 despite its frequent crises helps, too. The film convincingly relates a story of delirious racers, destroyed vehicles, and the incredible feeling of accomplishment that comes when most participants cross the finish line after all. And it really does sound an awful lot like life: “In one day, great things happen and terrible things happen, but at the end, you just deal with them.”CP