For some, an allegiance to
sports teams comprises a big part of their identity. I continually
encounter individuals who know more about their beloved baseball or
football franchises than they know about their spouses. Self-identifying
members of the "Raiders Nation" or "Colts Nation" exude a quasi-patriotic
fervor that can at times be alienating and downright frightening to
those on the outside. First-time director Robert Siegel's
Big Fan asks a lot of questions about the limits - or lack thereof
- of one sports fan's loyalty to his team, casting a darkly satirical
eye on this dominant feature of American culture.
Patton Oswalt plays Paul Aufiero,
a Staten Island parking lot attendant and die-hard fan of the New York
Giants. Paul's nightly routine is to compose long, enthusiastic
calls into a late-night sports radio talk show, which he makes after
his shift. These are usually barbed responses to a caller known
as "Philadelphia Phil" (Michael Rapaport), a supporter of the Giants'
rivals, the Philadelphia Eagles. Paul and his best - and only
- friend, Sal (Kevin Corrigan), go to Giants games but stay in the
parking lot watching them on TV. One night, the pair spot Giants
quarterback Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan - not Jon - Hamm) in a Manhattan
strip club and a misunderstanding leads a drunken Bishop to beat Paul
within an inch of his life. Paul's devotion to the team, however,
means that he refuses to the divulge details of the assault, which releases
Bishop from league suspension. Paul's cowardice is later unveiled
on-air by Philadelphia Phil, after which Paul disguises himself as an
Eagles fan and locates his rival in a Philly sports bar, leading to
a somewhat jokey climax.
As the consequences of Paul's
choices pile up - the aftermath of his beating, his decision not to
pursue litigation when the Giants' season is jeopardized by Bishop's
suspension, the public airing of his dirty laundry by Philadelphia Phil
- his mental health seems to hover on a precipice. His devotion
to the Giants drives every decision he makes; there is literally nothing
else in his life that he devotes any significant attention to.
As viewers, we believe that he will either self-destruct or experience
something revelatory. Neither happens. The movie's climax,
although a bit too "funny" to mesh with the harsher, more desperate
tone that builds up to it, condemns Paul to continue in the same obsessed,
imbalanced state of mind. This choice is simultaneously realistic,
depressing, and more thought-provoking than if Paul had acted in a more
decisive or consequential way. Because Paul's obsession remains
intact, we are left thinking about sports fanaticism as it may exist
in the real world, with all of its attendant behaviors, trends, etc.,
and what these things mean.
Siegel's dark script keeps
the satirical elements of the story embedded in Oswalt's character.
It's a solid approach that makes for appropriately uncomfortable comedy.
Oswalt's performance is very good, although the cadences of his stand-up
persona occasionally sneak into an otherwise convincing portrayal.
Corrigan is one of several actors who lend authentic, restrained support
to Oswalt's lead. His Sal is another loser, but more of a hapless
sidekick to the more aggressive, articulate Paul.
Oswalt's round, bestubbled
face is harshly-lit and unflattering. Paul's surroundings are
dingy and he doesn't take care of himself. The photographic
style has a washed-out look favored by filmmakers looking for an unpleasantly-heightened
reality. It's a common approach that nevertheless works well
here. The film is short and punchily directed by Siegel, whose
debut is auspicious, entertaining, and constructively subversive.
Big Fan is a sad, funny, well-written satire anchored by an excellent performance by Patton Oswalt. The film's poses interesting queries about fan obsessions that can apply as easily to movies, comics, or wine as they apply to sports. Big Fan doesn't offer any easy or predictable answers - just keen and sometimes brutal observations - which will help maintain the film's power and interest over time. Recommended.