Caught a press screening of the Farrelly brothers’ remake of Fever Pitch this morning.
In a nutshell, the film reminded me of how Jimmy Fallon started out on Saturday Night Live as something of an Adam Sandler wanna-be; and how a couple of Sandler’s best movies are the ones in which he has co-starred with Drew Barrymore, namely The Wedding Singer and 50 First Dates (my first impressions); and how one of Sandler’s more recent disappointments (namely Anger Management, which did at least have one of the funniest teasers ever) climaxed at a baseball game. But Jimmy Fallon ain’t no Adam Sandler; love him or hate him, Sandler has a certain presence onscreen that Fallon, so far, does not have.
Still, unlike some romantic comedies, which start strong and then lose all their spirit as they grind through the final-reel contrivances of separation and reconciliation etc., Fever Pitch actually seems to get better, if anything, in its final moments; at any rate, I thought Fallon’s performance became more emotionally convincing as he had to deal with his various heartbreaks, and I found that I actually wanted these characters to get back together, whereas the couples in a number of other films of this sort have left me cold by that point.
And this just may be the most un-Farrelly-like of the Farrelly brothers’ movies to date. (Just for the record, I am a huge fan of Osmosis Jones — it made my top ten — and I admired Stuck on You, but I don’t care much for the other films of theirs that I have seen.) There is no real gross-out humour in this film (except for a scene involving vomit that takes place entirely offscreen, and even the sound effects are kept relatively subtle!), and no obvious physical deformities on either man or beast, either — though there is just a wee, wee bit of humour in which someone gets up close and personal with an animal (when Fallon brushes a dog’s teeth), and even that is so mild you could easily forget it.
This film, incidentally, is based on a novel by Nick Hornby — High Fidelity, About a Boy (my review) — that was previously filmed in 1997 with Colin Firth as a soccer, not baseball, fanatic. I have not taken in either of this film’s predecessors, so I cannot say how it compares. But I wonder if the Hornby influence is partly what kept the Farrellys’ baser instincts reigned in this time.
On a thematic level, BTW, it was interesting to hear the subject of “control” come up on a couple of key occasions — the idea being that one of the things that draws Fallon’s character to baseball is the way it gives him an opportunity to surrender to something and to be part of something that is completely outside his control. I believe he even says it is “good for the soul” to be involved in something like this. And part of what both he and the Barrymore character have to learn is how to relinquish a degree of that control within their own relationship — meaning, in Fallon’s case, that he must relinquish control of his adherence to something that supposedly represents a lack of control to him.
Let’s put it this way. Fallon cannot control the game, obviously. But he can, and does, exercise control over the access that certain other individuals have to that game (in one scene, he makes his friends compete for tickets by dancing in front of him and each other); this is a form of control that he may need to relinquish. And paradoxically, he seemingly cannot control his own obsession with the game; and so, this is a form of control, i.e. self-control, that he actually needs to develop.
Ai-yi-yi, that’s more than I had intended to write on this film already. Turning to other matters, on the ride home from the film, I was reading George Jonas’s column on the Pope in today’s National Post, and came across this paragraph:
While John Paul II preferred engagement to confrontation, he never confused engagement with appeasement. Reconciliation in his vocabulary didn’t translate into attempting to reconcile good with evil. He forgave sinners, not sin.
Engagement, not confrontation or appeasement. I and many of the other Christian film critics and film buffs that I know often talk about “engaging” the culture, instead of merely “confronting” it a la the so-called “culture wars”. But we do sometimes run the risk of letting the pendulum swing too far the other way. “Engaging” the culture does not necessarily mean “appeasing” it or, to use a word that is probably used more frequently in these discussions, “accommodating” it or giving in to it. It is not enough to simply baptize, as it were, films here or there. We need to “engage” with films and exercise a form of discernment and try to sort out that which is worthy of praise from that which is not.
I may just be preaching to the choir, there, but that one sentence in Jonas’s article helped to keep this issue alive, for me, and it helped me to see this issue from just a slightly different angle.