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Fever Pitch (1999)
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by Robert Flaxman

"A yob's-eye view of romance."
2 stars

Usually, guys consider a movie like Fever Pitch to be something of a trap – it’s a romantic comedy (ergo, a “chick movie”) that uses its subject material (sports) to appeal to the male set, tricking them into the theater where they will, presumably, be assaulted by the female idea of romance for two hours while no actual sports take place. The latter is true; Fever Pitch contains almost no sports action. The romance, however, is the sort of thing that only a guy could have dreamed up – which is by far its biggest problem.

The screenplay for Fever Pitch was written by Nick Hornby and based on his book of the same name, which is rather odd because Hornby’s book is a nonfiction memoir of his life as a fan of the English soccer team Arsenal and involves a relatively small amount of discussion about his romantic relationships during the same period. The film focuses on the romance for the most part, but its best moments are those that transfer directly from the book: a young Paul Ashworth (the film’s surrogate Hornby) going to his first game ever and enjoying the experience of being in the stands as much as or more than the game itself; the silly way in which a grown Paul (Colin Firth) runs onto the field when the school team he coaches scores a goal; young Paul attending his first game by himself and feeling very grown up.

Unfortunately, Hornby clearly realized that the format of the book (a chronological but fairly disjointed series of vignettes) couldn’t be adapted to the screen, and so he centered the film around the romantic plot, which could hardly feel more perfunctory or false. Paul and Sarah (Ruth Gemmell) meet once (they teach at the same school in adjoining rooms) and dislike each other; that same night, Sarah’s roommate tells her that the two will end up sleeping together. And so they do, despite having no discernible chemistry; after accepting a ride home from a faculty meeting, Sarah propositions Paul in her apartment even though this is the second time we’ve seen them together and they spent the whole time arguing. Perhaps I saw a version of the movie that was missing twenty minutes.

It may be true that a lot of films get together romantic leads who spend much of their time bickering, but this isn’t Hepburn and Tracy stuff. Paul and Sarah really seem to have little in common – she can’t understand his obsession with soccer, and he can’t understand… well, it’s not clear what he can’t understand because Sarah isn’t given a whole lot of personality herself. She seems mostly to be in the movie so that someone can pout whenever Paul does something exceptionally stupid.

The ultimate lesson, however, is apparently that things work out as long as your team wins, and it’s okay if you’re a complete jerk because your girlfriend will realize that there are plenty of other people in London she could have dated who would also be complete jerks for the entirety of the soccer season (which runs nearly ten months), and so this means you’re not so bad after all, even though you just told her that you care more about soccer than about her or your unborn child and never even apologized for doing so.

Truly, this is a guy’s movie through and through, because it’s hard to imagine any woman in her right mind putting up with a guy like this. Fever Pitch in book form is a memoir of what it’s like to be a rabid fan, but we see here and there that Hornby makes concessions, and even spends several years away from following soccer at one point because he has other things to worry about. The film tries to talk about fandom, but refuses to divorce it from any aspect of Paul’s life, thus creating a portrait of a fan far less sympathetic than Hornby himself appears to have been. Why he made his stand-in so loathsome is anyone’s guess, but only in a guy’s mind could a man be this obsessive, completely different in personality from his girlfriend, refuse any kind of compromise with her, and end up with her anyway.

There are some funny-because-it’s-true moments in Fever Pitch, but it’s always at its best in the margins, when the romantic angle disappears for a few minutes, and this never happens for very long. With the relationship taking over focus like that, it really needs to work better, and the phoned-in nature of the romance dooms the film. Hornby’s book does a masterful job of explaining what being a sports fan means, but all his screenplay suggests is that liking Arsenal means never having to say you’re sorry.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=1592&reviewer=385
originally posted: 07/31/05 02:43:30
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User Comments

3/11/10 rita What did I tell you guys - if it's Colin Firth, it's bad news 2 stars
8/16/09 RLan Wonderful film. Puts the American version of this film to shame. 4 stars
3/19/07 David Pollastrini Drew Barrymore is hot! 3 stars
5/12/03 Francis proves yet again that a study of obsession can be truly boring 2 stars
4/25/01 Matt Anderson brilliant, but you have to know about football. 5 stars
1/17/01 Matthew Thomas A brilliantly realised film for sports nuts of any persuasion. 5 stars
7/08/00 KJArt A little confusing at first, but charming and lots of fun ultimately. 4 stars
6/05/00 Chris Harbron Top film 5 stars
10/15/99 kazz pulling teeth out is more interesting 1 stars
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  14-Oct-1999 (PG-13)



Directed by
  David Evans

Written by
  Nick Hornby

  Colin Firth
  Ruth Gemmell
  Neil Pearson
  Lorraine Ashbourne
  Mark Strong
  Holly Aird

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