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Issue Date:  April 29, 2005

From baseball to haute cuisine

'Fever Pitch' combines romance and Red Sox; 'Look at Me' satirizes French intellectuals


Fever Pitch is an improbable combination of baseball story and romantic comedy, but hardly as improbable as the way the Boston Red Sox ended their 80-plus years of frustration last year. Even Yankees fans should enjoy the producer’s use of scenic Boston and respond to the unpretentious charm of Ben Wrightman (Jimmy Fallon) and the way in which Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore) develops such a delightful dimple when she smiles. But directors Peter and Bobby Farrelly provide them with feeble dialogue and a choppy, simplistic plot in which Ben’s excessive devotion to the Sox threatens to torpedo their romantic relationship.

The beginning is weak, depending for humor on the lengths to which Ben’s rabid group of fellow fans will go to get some of the coveted season tickets left him by his uncle, Sam. In addition to his masochistic attraction to a team of traditional losers, Ben teaches math to high school students and meets the attractive Lindsey, a successful numbers-cruncher, when he takes them on a class trip to observe the business world.

The Farrellys then introduce us to Lindsey’s women friends, who warn her that there must be a good reason why this handsome young man is still available. Ben is attractively shy about asking her out, and the Farrellys fortunately restrict their penchant for bathroom comedy to Lindsey’s barfing on the couple’s first date.

Their relationship moves to lovemaking in easy stages, even surviving an accident in which Lindsey is knocked out by a foul ball while an oblivious Ben remains cheering. But a crisis is reached when he decides to skip a game for a party she begs him to attend. He tells her it’s the happiest day of his life. When he finds out late that night that he missed a historic Red Sox comeback victory, he angrily tells her he made the wrong decision.

But just as we know that the Red Sox are finally going to win a World Series, “Fever Pitch” doesn’t disappoint our need for a happy ending. Ignoring the pleading of the crazed group that always surrounds him at Fenway, Ben chooses love and decides to sell his season ticket for Sox games. Meanwhile, Lindsey accidentally learns of his decision and rushes to the park. Even non-fans will be rooting for her when she runs across the field to stop him from making a disastrous decision.

Agnès Jaoui, whose debut film was the delightful “The Taste of Others,” has repeated her achievement with Look at Me, a comic satire of French male literary intellectuals. The movie is a rare combination of close observation, wry humor and a deeply ethical outlook.

Étienne, a celebrated novelist and publisher, is totally self-centered, casually expecting adoration from his young (second) wife, a 4-year-old daughter and a plump older daughter, Lolita (Marilou Berry). An aspiring singer, Lolita feels ignored by her father; there is pain in her deep soulful eyes when he calls her his “big” girl and keeps “forgetting” to play the cassette she has made for him. When Sébastien (Keine Bouhiza), a young man she covered with her jacket after an accident, asks why she is angry with her father, she responds, “I don’t hate him; I just wish he were dead.”

The screenplay by Ms. Jaoui (who also plays Sylvia, Lolita’s singing teacher) and Jean-Pierre Bacri (who plays Étienne) deserves the award it received last year at Cannes. The dialogue has wit and psychological acuity. When Sylvia learns that Étienne is her student’s father, she steers her relatively unknown novelist-husband Pierre (Laurent Grévill) into the latter’s celebrity world. Soon Étienne is advancing Pierre’s career, and Pierre is adopting the publisher’s attitudes, even appearing on a wonderfully vulgar TV talk show.

Lolita is worried that Sébastien is befriending her simply to become part of her father’s circle but finally discovers that is not true. At the end, her performance for a charity concert illuminates the difference between the pursuit of success and a genuine devotion to art, a theme that subtly winds its way through the whole movie.

“Look at Me” is amusing and low-key, never preaching but allowing its culturally refined males to give themselves away whenever a pretty woman appears. The director subtly captures the minutiae of French life today. A cabbie plays the radio at peak volume, gross impoliteness almost leads to fisticuffs in a café and those who have a country home and a skilled chef are taught the possibility of a perfect soufflé. I bet that Agnès Jaoui can even cook!

Joseph Cunneen is NCR’s regular film reviewer. His e-mail address is

Quick Takes
Sin City, adapted by Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller from Mr. Miller’s ultraviolent and widely popular comic book, is the most technologically sophisticated of recent films, managing to achieve almost a mirror image of its original. Those concerned that the film’s devotees will grow up to join criminal gangs should remain calm: Its violence is so stylized that the blood sometimes appears white. My recommendation, however, is that you borrow an old film noir from your local video store instead.

National Catholic Reporter, April 29, 2005

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