Fever Pitch (1997)
A Match of Two Sides
So you don't get many Micky Thomas moments in real life? - Sarah
A Football match consists of two sides, Nick Hornby's story "Fever Pitch" adapted to the big screen by David Evans also consists of two sides. The first side is all about the passion that Paul has for his team Arsenal and his devotion through the highs and many lows as he's religiously followed them since childhood. The second side is all about Paul falling in love with fellow teacher, Sarah and his passion for Arsenal coming between them as it causes arguments as well as a certain amount of humour. These two sides interweave so whilst we watch how over the years Paul has become defined by his love of Arsenal his relationship with Sarah forces him into re-evaluating his life and his passion for football.
As a young boy Paul Ashworth's (Colin Firth - The King's Speech) dad took him to a game at Highbury, it was the start of a life defining obsession as he became a loyal Arsenal supporter following them through the highs and lows. But then now as an adult, an English teach he meets fellow teacher Sarah (Ruth Gemmell) and despite being very different fall in love. Unfortunately for Sarah their is a third member in their relationship, Arsenal football club, which causes continuous conflict especially as their relationship coincides with Arsenal having a very good chance of winning the league.
So as already mentioned "Fever Pitch" is a movie of interweaving sides each side does have a lot going on and sort of one leads on to another. As such whilst the main focus of the movie is on Paul as an adult we learn through his experiences what being a fan of Arsenal means. We watch through a series of flashbacks how he came to be an Arsenal fan, how it gave him a shared interest with his estranged father and also gave him a sense of belonging. And we watch how it forms his identity, consuming him for 9 months of a year and where people talk to him not about how their son is doing in class but about what he thinks of the players and Arsenal's chances are for the season. And at the same time we see how he doesn't notice this because since that first visit to Highbury his one and only love has been Arsenal.
The other side of this is the surprising and stuttering relationship with fellow teacher Sarah who in typical style don't see eye to eye when they first meet as she berates him for his football hooligan style teaching methods. And in quite typical style there is a certain amount of humour to their fledgling relationship be it Sarah's flatmate betting that she will end up shagging the hooligan on the carpet to the first time she sees Paul in his Arsenal box shorts. But none of this humour takes centre stage; it just provides gentle amusement as we watch Sarah discover that in their relationship she plays second fiddle to Paul's love of Arsenal.
But this initial slightly amusing relationship evolves as Paul's devotion to Arsenal does end up coming between them with him blinkered to how it is affecting them. And as such "Fever Pitch" evolves into something close to being a coming of age movie as Paul is forced to re-evaluate his life and his uncompromising passion for Arsenal. Yet at the same time we watch as Sarah has to grow and understand that she can't expect Paul to just walk away from a love which has been the focus of his life ever since he was a young child.
All of which makes "Fever Pitch" a fun, restrained British romantic comedy but one which also has depth rather than just cheap laughs. And it is this depth which makes it stand out from the American adaptation "The Perfect Catch" as whilst "The Perfect Catch" is definitely a fun romantic comedy that is all there is because the passion for sport never shows up. And it is this, this look at what being a fan means which makes "Fever Pitch" more than just a restrained British romantic comedy.
There is another reason why I like "Fever Pitch" and it is because of Colin Firth, not the polished posh Colin Firth of more recent movies but for the fact he is playing an ordinary guy on the streets, an untidy looking teacher who shouts at football games and smokes whilst debating football in the pub. It's just not what you expect from Firth because it is so different to his more recent movies but yet there is still something quite charming about him; you end up liking him despite quite clearly having his priorities out of order. And Firth works well with Ruth Gemmell who plays Sarah and together they may be chalk n cheese but we warm to them as a couple which makes the romantic side of the movie work.
"Fever Pitch" is by no means perfect, the way it jumps about a bit, not just in the way it explains how Paul became such a football fan but in the now, makes it a bit disjointed. And sadly as a Liverpool fan watching a certain match is a painful experience despite it being pivotal to the story.
What this all boils down to is that "Fever Pitch" is not a great movie but it is a very good movie thanks to the performances and Nick Hornby's story. In some ways we have that very rare movie a rom-com made for men and as such it makes it quite unique.
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