Fever Pitch
Rating -

Romance (UK); 1999; Not Rated; 96 Minutes

Colin Firth: Paul
Ruth Gemmell: Sarah
Neil Pearson: Paul's Dad
Mark Strong: Steve
Holly Aird: Jo

Produced by Amanda Posey; Directed by David Evans; Screenwritten by Nick Hornby

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Written by DAVID KEYES

There is something about sports admiration that drives a human being beyond the limits. All around the world, and especially in the United States, pastimes such as Baseball and Basketball are heavily regarded by admirers as sacred events, which leap from the fields and find the uttermost importance in the lives of those who relish in viewing them. Lots of people enjoy playing them, indeed, but put some guy in front of TV with a six pack during the Super Bowl, and he wouldn't know his own house was on fire.

This is the foundation of David Evans' "Fever Pitch," a new comedy/drama/romance from those lush landscapes of England responsible for giving us "The Full Monty." It tells the story of obsession at heart--a man whose life, no matter at what stage, is always revolved around his obsession for football (or, as it is known in this country, soccer). Relationships between Paul (Colin Firth) and those around him are at risk, however, because the game comes first in his life. Tension between characters flare when his favorite team, the Arsenal, is headed towards their first championship in 18 years, and his girlfriend, a teacher suffering through pregnancy, is fed up with the prospect of her and her child's life coming second in Paul's.

All while these things are going on, the people who are circled around the thesis are being employed by endless parley. The movie is heavily dependent on dialogue exchanges--most of the events and plot details are followed by long, boring conversations that seem to last longer than we think they should. This is a nuisance to the movie as a whole, because we want to appreciate what these characters stand for, no matter how unreasonable. The relentless talk only slows them down.

Paul's story begins long before the movie's present setting. As a child, he and his father, separated by (I presume) custody rights, only met a couple of times a week. Looking for something that both he and his son can admire, Paul's father brings up the idea of going to a football game. Paul, of course, has no immediate involvement in the sport, but upon routine visits to the field, he begins developing an appreciation for the game--an appreciation that only escalates beyond decent limits as an adult.

In present day, Paul is a teacher (although the movie doesn't choose to explore his exact career background). A new instructor next door, Sarah, is miffed by the endless noise coming from his room, and their first encounter is a considerably hasty one. But upon getting to know each other, their relationship becomes serious--so serious that it puts Sarah in a rather difficult situation, both with her new boyfriend, and the school she is working for.

The real conflict: Paul is not ready to give up on his favorite team, the Arsenal. Why? Because, after 18 hard years, they finally have a chance for going all the way, and winning the championship. Meanwhile, Sarah, also heavily against any kind of devotion to sports, demands the support from the father of her child. So ultimately, the decision is up to Paul--can he focus his time on his girlfriend and child, or will he forever be dependent on watching people kick around a checker-boarded ball?

The premise has a compelling twist: viewing the fetish of a sport from the eyes of a spectator. Paul's obsessive impulses have a firm power on the screen, because the director employs most of his energy onto the emphasis of this spectator's reactions to the game--reactions when the players miss a goal, make a goal, or win an entire game. Firth was also seen in last year's Best Picture winner, "Shakespeare In Love," but his role here is a far more important. We can either identify with him, or shake our heads in utter disbelief at his value system.

But alas, the basic plot formula that consumes the characters is pale and often too familiar. As a character study, the movie succeeds. But these are actors and players that are portrayed so well, and answer so many difficult questions, that they deserve a less cliché-driven story. The long and dreadful conversations in between don't help, either.

So much fails here, and so much could have been achieved. We admire Nick Hornby, the writer's script, but it is carried at an almost unbearable pace. And yet, through the endless discussions and predictable outcomes, there still is enough stress placed on the characters' personalities so that we can generate interest in them. In a way, I can recommend "Fever Pitch"--not as a movie, but as a lesson in obsessions and devotion.

© 1999, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org. Please e-mail the author here if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.
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