REVIEW: Big Fan [2009]

“We came all the way from Staten Island”

Don’t underestimate the talent of Patton Oswalt. Playing a 36-year old man that lives with his mother, works a dead-end minimum wage job, and lives only for the New York Football Giants; this comedian delivers the goods on dark depression. It is always a pleasure to see an actor that has been pigeon-holed into one genre branch out and show the possibilities of range that have never been discovered. With Big Fan being written and directed by the former editor-in-chief of The Onion, I guess it makes sense. Himself originally at the head of a satirical news source, Robert D. Siegel has found himself as the screenwriter for the acclaimed drama The Wrestler and now at the creative center of his own feature debut. We may say he took a chance at an unproven dramatic talent, but perhaps he knew something we did not, some semblance of that inner suffering and inability to care about self-worth beyond the happiness of the one thing always there for him—football.

Oswalt is Paul Aufiero, an uneducated yet passionate man. All facets of his life have had their growth stunted except for his diehard fandom for the G-Men. Attending every home game—in the parking lot with a TV rigged to the car—owning Giants memorabilia from clothing to cell phone case, and calling into the local radio station each night to prove his faith in the team, Paul lives and breaths the blue and red. Looked upon by best friend Sal, another fine performance from the unheralded Kevin Corrigan, as an intelligent and quick-witted guy, the truth is that he is indecisive, lonely, and scared. Every ‘eloquent’ diatribe that he calls in with has been written down in his notebook first, rampant with spelling errors and incorrect verbiage, then edited and rewritten. Attacking a faceless ‘Philadelphia Phil’ who participates in the show to rile up the New Yorkers listening in, Paul imagines that he lives the high life, adding something to the winning ways of his team and being the absolute biggest fan they have.

But it all comes crashing down one night in an evening that could have been a dream come true. Standing across the street while eating pizza, the two Staten Island residents see Paul’s favorite player, five-time Pro Bowl linebacker Quantrell Bishop. These are two grown men, however, now looking at a man they idolize from afar. A lifetime of disappointment and insecurity has left him unprepared to approach a celebrity figure, let alone show appreciation without coming off as stalkers. Following him all the way to the city for over an hour does not help matters, but accidentally admitting the fact to Bishop is even worse. The star athlete feels violated and, in his drunken state, beats Paul up to within an inch of his life. So, now we have an over-exuberate fan destroyed mentally and physically by his hero—possibly left with brain damage from the fight and now made to watch his Giants play without their star, sending them off onto a prolonged losing streak. Paul must then face the social and judicial consequences of the incident, wrestling with the fact that if he sues or presses charges, his team might lose all hope of making the playoffs.

Oswalt’s character goes from superstitiously carrying his team on his shoulders, just by being in the parking outside while they play, to literally being at the center of their current implosion on the field. He plays the role so well, a childlike naivety consistently on his face as he laughs through the pain. His family, including a lawyer brother, doesn’t understand his thought process or how he can seriously put the wellbeing of the team above his own. They watch as he slowly hides from the problem, hoping it will go away. Paul feigns amnesia with the police and self-righteousness with his family, but the anger continues to build up inside, boiling for its eventual release. We see that it will all have to come out sooner or later with uncontrolled outbursts leaving his mouth left and right. His scripted radio call-ins become weak and incoherent, his speech with Sal hostile. There becomes only one thing for him to do, but I feel as though Siegel took the easy way out in regards to that conclusion and didn’t quite live up to the pitch-black horror his plot was progressing towards.

I do believe that Big Fan deserves to be seen for Oswalt’s performance alone, hopefully proving to be only the first of many serious roles for him in the coming future. All the acclaim thrown his way is warranted, but the film itself may be a tad too weak in its resolution to be an unequivocal success. Perhaps it was the need to infuse humor or the fear of alienating his audience, I just wish the end had more gravitas, something that could easily have been rectified, excising the twist thrown in for the event we imagine will happen. Siegel does undeniably show signs of talent, though. Getting the performances here speaks wonders for that fact, but certain sequences help the cause as well. The entire part in Philadelphia’s Sharkey’s bar at the end is beautifully shot in chaotic close-up, commencing with a stunning entrance for Oswalt in slomotion, the lights and reflections shining through. Michael Rapaport’s integral supporting role also becomes fully realized here, finally pitting the two antagonists of the radio war together, face to face. Paul needs retribution and he does so in the only way he knows how. I just wish the stakes were higher; elevating the finale to a resounding crescendo rather than the quasi-meaningful whimper it delivers.

Big Fan 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

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