Fever Pitch (2005)

Rated PG-13 Our Content Rating: V-1 ; L-1 ; S/N-5

…you shall have no other gods before me.You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.You shall not bow down to them or worship them…
Deuteronomy 5:7-9a

It (Love) does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful… When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.
1 Corinthians 13:5, 11

Fever Pitch

At last, a Farrelly Brothers ‘ film that even adults can enjoy! Maybe it is because they and screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel have adapted someone else’s work—the script is based loosely on Nick Hornby’s book about a British soccer addict. The screenwriters showed their merit with Parenthood and Robots, and the excellent About a Boy and High Fidelity were penned by Hornby—both of the latter, by the way, also featuring an obsessed, Peter Pan-like man. This would be a good date film, in that it has something for both guys and gals: a Boston Red Sox addict and a work-obsessed woman, both nearing thirty and attractive, but unable to settle into a long relationship.

Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon) is a junior high math teacher who lives and breathes the Boston Red Sox. His obsession began when he was a painfully shy eight year-old whose uncle took him to his first ball game at Fenway Park. The boy’s eyes widened with wonder as they entered the park and he beheld the Sox on the field and the stands crowded with yelling fans. The uncle, himself a member of the Re Sox Nation, warned the boy, “Be careful, kid—they’ll break your heart.” Win his heart they do, the boy growing up to inherit his uncle’s prized pair of season seats located so that the players can be seen in their dug out. His apartment is filled with Red Sox souvenirs and paraphernalia, even his telephone cradled in a replica of a baseball mitt. Each spring features the ritual of celebrating the arrival of his season tickets and his assigning the days when his baseball loving friends can join him for a game in the prized seats. The gang even travels to Florida to watch the Sox in spring training and rev up again their hopes for a better season.

When Ben takes his top students to meet math whiz Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore), he is immediately taken with her. She is a business consultant crunching numbers for big corporations, so she at first brushes aside his invitation to dinner. He is obviously beneath her. Her three friends, however, question her decision, pointing out that hitherto she has in effect been dating herself by going out with men as ambitious and as successful as she—maybe a teacher wouldn’t be so bad.

However, when Ben, a small bouquet in hand, arrives to take her out, he hears a moaning through the apartment door. Lindsey has come down with a severe case of food poisoning. She has to rush to the bathroom, leaving Ben standing at the door. He comes in and takes charge, putting her to bed and cleaning up her vomit from the floor and toilet. (Yes, this bodily fluid is typical of the Farrellys, but it is an integral part of showing Ben’s character here, rather than inserted for laughs.) The next morning when Lindsey opens her bleary eyes, she discovers that her date has put pajamas on her and spent the night on her couch. He is on hand to offer further assistance. She asks if she were dreaming or is it true that he cleaned up her messy bathroom. And so the two begin a relationship.

Lindsey’s friends, who had been so encouraging before, now ask what is wrong that a guy so caring and sensitive is still single at thirty—’’How is he not tranquilized and tagged by now?” After quite a number of dates, Ben does, with some trepidation, tell Lindsey about his obsession. She acknowledges that she knows of this, having been to his apartment, where one wall is a replica of Fenway Park’s “Green Monster” wall. On bended knee he holds out a ring box and broaches the question uppermost in his heart, “Will you attend the opening game with me?” She does, and is introduced to Ben’s “Summer Family,” a group of men and women who have gotten to know and like each other over the span of countless summers because they all “own” their seats in the most valuable section of the stands. A complete novice in regard to baseball, the group is not overly impressed with her.

Now Lindsey had already come to realize something of the depth of Ben’s fanaticism earlier, when he had turned down her invitation to come and meet her parents during her father’s 60th birthday party. She had grudgingly accepted his excuse that traveling with his buddies to spend a week in Florida at the Red Sox training camp was such a life-time ritual that he could not accept, as much as he wanted to. At her parents home, while watching ESPN, the camera pans over the stands at the Red Sox training camp to focus in on the antics of some of the fanatics. There is her shy and witty Ben, screaming his head off with his friends, making a total idiot of himself. Her appalled father remarks, “What an a—hole!” It would have been enjoyable to see Ben finally meeting him, but after this we see her family only once more, watching the final World Series game.

Lindsey gamely tries to adapt to Ben’s ways, attending many games with him. But, finding her work suffering—she is working for promotion to a coveted position that has opened up in her company—she begins to bring her laptop to the games, much to the consternation of the other fans. And when she is struck unconscious by a foul ball, she later sees on the television rerun that Ben, so excited that one of the fans had the prized ball, totally ignores for a while the fact that she is injured. She decides that they need to draw apart, especially when she excitedly comes to his school to tell Ben that she has been chosen to attend a meeting in Paris, and she wants to exchange her first class ticket for two coach seats so that Ben can go. He says No at first because the Sox play their archrivals the Yankees that weekend. His tardy agreeing to go comes too late, she realizing that the Sox take precedent over her.

Ben is despondent, of course. At a school ballgame he pours out his heart to one of his students, and the boy, before stepping up to bat, offers him this bit of wisdom, ‘’You love the Sox, but do they love you back?” Good point+—even reminds me of some of the things that the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah said about the powerlessness of idols. This starts Ben to thinking about his values and his Peter Pan slowness to grow up. The climax of the film, when both lovers search their hearts and discover just how much each means to the others, may very well induce tears (maybe I’m just too big of a softy). The scene of Lindsey running like a star receiver across a football field (it requires the use of a rival sport to do full justice to her run) is destined, I suspect to become a classic.

For reflection/discussion

1) Have you ever wondered about the half-naked fanatics, their faces and torsos painted, acting wildly that TV sports cameras love to pick up during their telecasts? Or do you know someone like Ben? How are he and his friends similar to the guys in Barry Levinson’s 1982 film Diner? (If you have not seen this classic, now would be a good time to do so.)

2) Lindsey has her own obsession: what is it? How have moviemakers focused more on this than on the sports fanatic? Usually, the career-obsessed person in such films is a man: two good films that also show a female totally career obsessed are Working Girl and Network (respectively Sigourney Weaver and Faye Dunaway.)

3) How are both obsessions a form of violating the first and second of the Ten Commandments? What other forms of idolatry do you see around you?

4) What is the payoff for Ben from his obsession? Reflect on his comment to Lindsey that he “gets lost in the game,” that “I like being something bigger than me—than I.” 5) In the same conversation he says, “I like sometimes being an 11 year-old.” How is this “sometimes” a good thing? Similar to Jesus’ statement that a person must become “like a child” in order to enter his kingdom? But how has Ben crossed the line from “childlike” to “childish”?

6) What do you think of Ben’s comment about why he likes baseball so much because “you can’t fake it”? How is this true of the sport, with each player, especially the pitcher and the batter, standing in full view of thousands of spectators? How does this make the recent charges of ball players using steroids a great betrayal of fans like Ben?

7) The filmmakers use songs very skillfully. How did you feel during the sequence in which we hear Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline,” to which the fans join in? Or the sequence with “Losing Ground”?

8) How is Ben’s initial refusal to accept Lindsey’s Paris invitation a betrayal? Or the scene at her friend’s birthday party when Ben learns that he missed such a historic game? Has someone treated you in such a way, revealing where you really stand in his or her priorities? How did you feel?

9) What do you think of the ending? How is Ben learning the truth of 1 Cor. 13:11, and Lindsey that of v. 5? How is the sacrifice each is willing to make similar to the couple’s in the classic short story “The Gift of the Magi”? How did you feel during Lindsey’s great run? (Yes, I know that some sophisticated critics have regarded this as sentimental schmaltz, but did you feel the urge to cheer or call out, “Go, girl!”)

10) Will the future be all roses for the pair? How will they continually have to struggle with themselves? How might they find God in such struggling, perhaps even as an ally?

11) Caution: Youth leaders will want to be prepared to comment upon or discuss ben and Lindsey’s premarital sexual relationship. Otherwise, this is a good film for a youth group.