For all of the commercials that shill fizzy golden water most Sundays in the fall for football, the overall message, it would appear that the only film that has effectively explored a grown man's fandom for a sports team has been Fever Pitch. Based on the work of a writer whose name is familiar to many, it went from a book to a movie to an American remake that explored Major League Baseball's Boston Red Sox, yet the original British film has made its way to Blu-ray in another installment of the Twilight Time series.
Nick Hornby (High Fidelity) adapted his autobiographical book into a screenplay that David Evans (Downton Abbey) directs. Set in 1989, Paul Ashworth (Colin Firth, Love Actually) is an elementary school teacher, but more importantly to him he is a fan of the Arsenal Football Club, and has been since his Dad took him to matches when he was a kid. His fandom permeates his teachings with his kids yet his kids and their parents are enamored with him and he gets results. The slightly more buttoned up Sarah (Ruth Gemmell, The Expelled) arrives to the staff and he attempts to reconcile his feeling for her with the Gunners' 1989 title run, with the occasional help of his best friend Steve (Mark Strong, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy).
As a self-professed soccer crazy, I had seen the British version years ago before seeing the remake which does an admirable job in trying to explain athletic infatuation to American audiences. However, as my love for soccer has grown, there are so many nuances within Fever Pitch that become points of almost indescribable charm that it just is a movie that you come back to two or five years down the road. The sense of fatalism that everyone on your club stinks and everything around them is horrible and doomed for yet another year. But you come back to watch because you have kept coming back since you were a kid, and why stop now?
As Paul, Firth delivers the character as a mix of one with quiet capability in his job (Paul coaches the boys' soccer team and is up for a possible promotion over the course of the film), and one who embraces to an extent the dismissal of this obsession by Sarah. Following sports may seem like a childish pursuit to many but Paul explains it rather well. The film does a fine job of allowing him to present his argument while also allowing others draw their own conclusions. Paul lived with his mother while his father (the parents were divorced) came by occasionally until the visits became fewer and fewer, so perhaps his fandom is tied into a desire to reclaim a youth that perhaps was taken from him when his parents split. But in Paul it is clear that he has had to likely have these discussions before and will do so again, that his position is as eloquent as it is serves to it. Having never seen Firth as Mr. Darcy I can see in Paul how he has grown to be the actor that he has become.
As a Liverpool fan, the 1989 is one that was heartbreaking not only for losing the League Championship in the dying moments of the year to Arsenal, but also for the Hillsborough disaster where 96 died at a FA Cup match between Liverpool and Sheffield Wednesday. And Fever Pitch touches upon this, as Paul is clearly emotional from it. But it is examined from a larger perspective of why Paul would consider returning to a match, as the stands at Hillsborough and Highbury were similar (more exactly, in Sarah's experience she was pushed and pulled in a variety of directions at the match she attended). While Paul is stunned and emotional from the loss, to suddenly not go to any more matches means that he perhaps may be compromising his sense of loyalty. It may be one thing to see the matches from a distance on television, it is another to actually be there.
Fever Pitch does not have the answers, in fact the ending may be a bit of a disappointment for some viewers. But speaking as one who has a similar connection to the sport and team as Paul/Nick, one does not have to put aside their love of their soccer club as much as making room for it, and that may be the nicest thing that comes from the film. That and the Firth-fro going on in 1997.
Twilight Time gives Fever Pitch an AVC encode in this 1.85:1 high-definition presentation, and the results are pleasurable. Film grain is present during the viewing experience and the image possesses as much image detail as can be expected. Generally, colors are reproduced accurately through the film, be it the faded reds and whites of Paul's Arsenal jersey or the yellows and blues of Steve's more recent alternate gunners one. The source material looks as good as can be on the Blu-ray.
The DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 track the disc gets to use for the film is in good form. Dialogue is consistent and well balanced, and the film has quite a few popular songs, more than I remember when I saw the movie awhile back. The ambient noise of the matches and the celebration at the end of the film fills the soundstage out nicely. Aside from flirting with enabling subtitles to discerning the Arse a little more clearly, the soundtrack is without complaint.
Film historians Julie Kirgo and Nick Redman team up for a commentary that is a little on the shallow side. Redman is the soccer fan of the bunch and shares additional context and amplification on soccer in that era, and some additional speculation on some details from the book. Kirgo provides occasional discussion on the film but otherwise, unless you do not know much about soccer of the era and do not want much complementary information on the film. There is also an isolated two-channel track of the film's score, and a small four-page booklet on the cast and the film is included as well.
Fever Pitch may still serve as one of the better looks into the mind of the male sports fan (regardless of sport) in recent memory, and that it has been more than two decades since the Nick Hornby book came out says something about the male sports mind, though I may not want to know what. Technically, the disc is pretty good and from a bonus perspective the new material is welcome, and if you are a fan of Firth or Hornby (or are a sports fan ‘widow') it is worth checking out.