Fever Pitch

Directed by David Evans
Starring: Colin Firth, Ruth Gemmell, Luke Aikman.
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Review by Matt Heffernan
October 16, 1999

Before I start this review, I need to make a clarification. I'm an American, and football to me involves forward passes and touchdowns. The game where you kick round balls into big nets is soccer. But, since this is a British film, they always refer to the latter sport as "football". I apologize (not apologise) to my international readers that I shall hereafter refer to it as "soccer".

Colin Firth plays Paul Ashworth, a teacher who devotes nine months a year to following the Arsenal soccer team. He also coaches his school's soccer team. He has no life outside of the sport; he thinks of time in terms of seasons, not years. Everything is going fine until a new teacher moves into the classroom next door. She is Ms. (not Miss or Mrs.) Sara Hughes (Ruth Gemmell), a pretty, but reserved history teacher. She complains about the rowdiness of Paul's American literature class, and some friction develops.

Of course, friction produces heat, and Paul and Sara eventually hook up. They try to have a normal relationship, but Paul is much more in love with Arsenal than her. They haven't won a championship in 18 years, and this year they are on top again. He tries to get her into the game, and all she wants is some attention. Meanwhile, we see the development of this obsession through flashbacks to Paul's youth (where he is played by Luke Aikman), and how this affected his relationship with his father.

These flashbacks are very reminiscent of the parallel story development in The Godfather, Part II, but this story isn't nearly as engrossing. The relationship between Paul and Sara is difficult to figure out. Sara just seems to be resigning herself, as if this is her only shot at happiness. Therefore, I couldn't really see any reason to hope that they would stay together, other than allowing Paul to get laid during the off-season.

Firth is probably best known to American audiences as the mean old Lord Wessex in Shakespeare in Love. Here he plays a very likeable character, even if his obsession is somewhat disturbing. There are many very funny moments with him, mostly dealing with the people at school. Stephen Rea has a cameo as a school board member who interviews him for a promotion, and they end up talking about their mutual admiration for Arsenal. Despite these few highlights, overall the film is unsatisfying.

Perhaps if I were into soccer at all, I would appreciate this film more. A new generation of Americans are being raised by "Soccer Moms" right now. When I was a kid, soccer was a distant fifth to baseball, football, basketball, and hockey. I think that this film is more suited to the America of the next millenium. The other old farts and I will just have to watch Knute Rockne, All American over and over again.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Fever Pitch (1997)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Fever Pitch (1997) -- VHS
Fever Pitch (1997) -- DVD
Fever Pitch, a memoir by Nick Hornby -- Paperback

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Review © 1999 Matt Heffernan