In Praise of Peter and Bobby
Dear Peter and Bobby:
You don't know me, but I've been meaning for years to express how much your work has meant to me as a lover of movies in a lonely period. Having just seen your new Fever Pitch, which I honestly feel is among the sweetest American comedies in many moons, I've decided that now is the time to send my little curveball over the plate.
See, I had been planning to write a traditional review of the film--taking into account your typically tender work with actors (Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon, in this case), your unusual dedication by Hollywood standards to portraying the struggle that comes with maintaining meaningful relationships, your courage and great success in moving from the lowbrow likes of Dumb and Dumber (totally hilarious, by the way) through a series of smart and smarter films, each with fewer facial blemishes and bodily fluids than the last.
But a letter--a love letter, if you will--seemed more appropriate on the occasion of Fever Pitch, your heartfelt romance. I still thoroughly believe, as I wrote in my Top 10 blurb on your 2003 masterpiece Stuck on You, that someone needs to deliver a scholarly treatise on turn-of-the-century American male psychology as depicted in the films of the Farrelly brothers, so obviously rich and true are your ideas about narcissism and the conflicted desires of men for individuality and intimacy. Such work is probably beyond me, though. Besides, Fever Pitch is principally about fandom: Its tale of a hyperobsessive Red Sox devotee named Ben (Fallon) clearly invites those who identify with the pros and cons of pop-culture worship to wear our true colors. So while I'm certainly no great admirer of the Twins, I think you could say that with this note, a Minnesotan has pulled his Homer Hanky out of mothballs to wave it wildly for the sibling sluggers from outside Providence.
What you guys have said about Fever Pitch is, like the film itself, straightforward and unpretentious, but poignant, too. On the press kit DVD, Peter, your simple synopsis makes plain that the movie is about a lot more than just baseball. "Ben," you say, "is a guy who moved to Boston when he was seven years old. His parents had just gotten divorced; he was from New Jersey, he had no friends, he was devastated that he left his father back in New Jersey, his mother was working, he was all alone--no brothers and sisters. And one day his uncle takes him to a Red Sox game and all of a sudden his world opens up... [He's] not just a fan: [He's] a guy who sees the Red Sox as part of his life."
Speaking as one whose own life was saved by a great American pastime, I know the emotional particulars of Fever Pitch even if I don't know the first thing about baseball. (Once again, you guys have made a film that resonates far beyond the high concept: Here, baseball is as much a metaphor for trivial pursuits as conjoined fraternity was for human interdependence in Stuck on You.) An artist, at least in my definition, is someone who sees his obsessions everywhere he looks, reexamining them in (obsessive) ways that matter even to others who can't identify directly. No doubt you guys are acting as artists even (or especially) when you're sticking Ben Stiller's "frank and beans" into the zipper of his prom pants in There's Something About Mary. Because in a larger sense, what you two have been looking at since the very beginning (i.e., Dumb and Dumber) is the slew of obstacles that childhood chucks in the path of adult development. For Stiller's Ted Stroehmann, the scars of adolescence are literal. For Jack Black's titular skirt-chaser in Shallow Hal, the problem is purely psychological: As a grade-schooler, he heard his reverend father's drugged, dying words--"Hot young tail is what it's all about"--and unfortunately took them to heart.
For Fever Pitch, it's as if you guys set out to elaborate (and improve) upon that classic scene in Woman of the Year where Spencer Tracy brings Katharine Hepburn to Yankee Stadium and has to reckon with the painful fact that...she doesn't really get the game. (In giving you guys the RBI, I'm not terribly concerned with the fact that Fever Pitch was loosely adapted from the Nick Hornby novel by the hacks who penned Splash. This is your first movie that you haven't written, but--here's another definition of artistry--it's absolutely yours.) Unlike Woman of the Year, your film loves the woman (Barrymore) who loves the man who loves baseball--loves her even (or especially) for wanting not to lose herself in the game or the guy.
There has always been a rare kind of warmth in your movies--a sense in every frame that you guys care deeply about your characters even (or especially) when you're testing their patience. But this quality has grown by leaps and bounds since Kingpin came out in '96--the same year that other American jokesters were defining the "cinema of cruelty" with Welcome to the Dollhouse and Citizen Ruth. Did you guys see these "comedies" and decide you couldn't risk being lumped in with satirists who laugh at their characters (and their audiences) rather than with them? I know you're not nearly so calculated about your work. But it's interesting to note that at a time when mean-spiritedness appears to be our common currency, you guys have been inching ever closer to true love.
Whether for this reason or not, you'll probably never be feted by the film department of a major cultural institution. But it's okay: We who love movies love you all the more for that. Tell you what: If you guys are ever in town for a Twins-Red Sox game, please allow one of us to buy you each a hot dog and a beer. That's the least we can do--maybe the most--to show our deep appreciation for eight movies that jerk it right out of the park.
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