Film: Kicked into touch: Fever Pitch - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

Film: Kicked into touch: Fever Pitch

Fever Pitch David Evans (15)

Nick Hornby's book Fever Pitch has made him many friends, but the success of a memoir about the splendours and miseries of being an Arsenal fan no more guarantees a worthwhile film than it guarantees a useful spin-off recipe book (Baked Beans My Way). Hornby's screenplay is less autobiographical than his book, but there's no trace of the narrative tension required for a fiction film.

There are flashbacks to the hero's apprenticeship as a football fan, but once we've got the message that, in this new context, young Paul's dad can progress from an awkward tousle of the hair to a manly shoulder pat, these passages pretty much mark time. Paul has a new all-male family, true, one that seems to be made up of the elderly and demented, the middle- aged and wistful, and the young and transported, but it's hard to get too worked up about that. It's mentioned late on in the film that Paul stopped having any time for his dad once their days as fellow fans were over, but the suggestion isn't taken up. Adult Paul (Colin Firth) has possession of the voice-over anyway, and we know we're not invited to see him in the round.

The present tense of the story is the 1989 League Championship season, which happens to have ended with a famous cliffhanger of a match. It's clearly a good idea to tie your story to an unforgettable result, but mildly perverse to expect audiences to forget that result until the crucial day in 1989 rolls round again on screen. It takes something of a diehard fan to watch matches over and over with no loss of surprise or excitement.

For the moment of victory itself, director David Evans comes up with a charming shot in slow motion of Paul (who has more or less despaired, and would rather not watch the match trickle away) hurling himself back into position in front of the television, a moment that abolishes the distance between player and spectator.

Otherwise Evans contents himself, in terms of technique, with the occasional crane-shot, the camera rising above Highbury after a special game - or an ordinary one. The crane shot is the equivalent in film language of an agnostic's prayer, something you find yourself resorting to under pressure, not because you believe in it but because it's what people do.

Some of the book's bits of direct address to the reader survive in the film as voice-overs, but most of its concerns have been reformulated to emerge from the romance between Paul and Sarah (Ruth Gemmell), who teaches at the same school. Sarah is given some good deflationary lines, even one or two outright zingers, but as a character she is scandalously underwritten.

She's a new teacher at the school, who introduces herself to class, without warmth, as Miz Hughes (not Miss or Mrs but Miz). She's big on lesson plans, small on communication skills, while Paul next door is a teacher approaching genius - passionate, lovable, profoundly in touch with the kids. Naturally she complains about the noise.

The characters are conceived as opposites, a standard romantic scenario, except that every opposition works in Paul's favour. Sarah is unspontaneous to an absurd extent, but without dignity. They don't have a first date as such, but he offers her a lift on a rainy day, she asks him in for a coffee, he asks if he can smoke and she says no. "You can stay the night, though, if you like," she says - without even adding, "I can't believe I said that." These unspontaneous feminists - gagging for it, really.

Paul, offered this intimacy, doesn't say no, but doesn't have to take responsibility for the relationship that results. Sarah is baffled by his football obsession, but there's nothing in her life that correspondingly excludes him. Eventually she goes with Paul to see Arsenal play, but he doesn't have to sit through chamber music concerts for her benefit, or anything like that. He's wider than her, as well as deeper. At parents' evenings, her table is deserted, while Paul, at his, deftly fields faulty family dynamics.

Many couples with a lot more in common end up arguing about commitment as against independence. Bizarrely, Paul's trump card is to say that he knows all about commitment - hasn't he supported Arsenal for 18 years? If they don't work as a couple, it's her fault. This childish sophistry is allowed to stand, with Sarah saying nothing along the lines of: Try to learn the difference between a relationship and a history of masturbation.

When roles reverse, once again it's Paul who gets the benefit. He guesses when Sarah becomes pregnant, and immediately recasts his life to accommodate the threatened newcomer. It's Sarah who has difficulty adjusting, even to the point of starting to smoke, just when he gives up the habit. She has no history, no point of view, no family or background.

The last time there was a romantic couple of teachers on screen, it was Barbra Streisand and Jeff Bridges in The Mirror Has Two Faces, and at least then the good teacher (the woman in that case) gave the bad one tips. When, in Fever Pitch, Sarah is given an end-of-term present by her appreciative pupils, we're as surprised as she is.

Ruth Gemmell handles the scene well, an emotional moment that is over almost before it begins as the pupils slope off, but it's clear that her talents are being Miz-Hughesed. Sarah is there to endorse Paul's obsession - the apparent immaturity that is, in fact, an acceptance of loss and mortality - undercover of critique. The irony is that any follower of British cinema is necessarily familiar with what might be called Arsenal Syndrome: the throwing away of opportunities, compulsive repetition of basic mistakes

'Fever Pitch' goes on general release tomorrow

Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week