Thursday, January 14, 2010

Movie Review: Big Fan (2009) - 3 stars

Big Fan is the directorial debut of Robert Siegel, the man who wrote The Wrestler. The story has some issues, but the film undoubtedly confirms his ability to tell intimate, uncompromising character studies. Patton Oswalt stars as Paul Aufiero, a 35-year-old parking garage attendant who -- much like Mickey Rourke's character in The Wrestler -- is a complete loner. He lives with his mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz), a old, cranky woman who reminds Paul every day of the pointlessness of his life. Paul's brother Jeff (Gino Cafarelli) is a hot shot lawyer, fresh off of making his first commercial, and everyone in his family shoves that success in his face.

The only two people that really seem to like Paul are Sal (Kevin Corrigan), his fellow New York Giant fanatic, and the raspy-voiced host of a sports talk radio show that Paul calls multiple times a week. In fact, Paul's time at the parking garage is mostly spent drafting and rehearsing his call-in rants that are usually performed in the middle of the night. He lives for those one or two minutes every day when his true self, "Paul from Staten Island," can speak his heart out. Nothing gives him more pleasure than relentlessly attacking "Philadelphia Phil" (Michael Rapaport) after a big Giants victory.

Paul's favorite Giants player is the ferocious linebacker Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm). It's somewhat ironic that his initials are "QB," given the fact that various quarterbacks around the league must have recurring nightmares about him. Paul has a poster of the man in his room and he has his jersey number of 54 to wear when he and Sal go to tailgate at Giants Stadium on Sundays. Paul knows that this player is the key to a Giants championship. 

One night when Paul and Sal are out late, they see Quantrell at a gas station. They can't believe their eyes. Before they get a chance to approach him, his vehicle takes off. Paul doesn't hesitate to follow the car. After a shady encounter, Quantrell's car ends up at a strip club. The handfuls of people in his crew are intimidating to say the least, and it takes Paul a while to work up the courage to introduce himself. After a harmless few minutes, Paul and Sal casually mention their origins from Staten Island. Appalled by the thought of being followed all that way, Quantrell beats Paul senseless until his eye is as black as his own Escalade. 

Several days later, Paul wakes up in the hospital to his anxious brother. An enraged Jeff does all he can to convince Paul of a lawsuit -- and the financial gains that would ensue -- but Paul can't bring himself to do it. It's an interesting decision that Paul makes, and it's the epitome of what this film is about. How sick does a man have to be to give up millions of possible dollars just to see his favorite player step on the field on Sunday? Just how sick are these types of sports fanatics.

Paul defines his life by something he can't attain, and he's infinitely happy doing it. His mother continuously questions why he doesn't date more, why he doesn't try to get a better job, and the answer is astoundingly simple: Because he is happy. And it's heartbreaking to watch a man doing absolutely nothing be so perfectly content with it.

The narrative of this film doesn't have as strong of legs as one might hope, but the vast complexities of the character study make it worth seeing. Patton Oswalt is gives a performance unlike anything he's done before. He perfectly embodies the stereotype of a middle aged man whose life is dominated by sports. Overweight, unattached, crappy job, living with his mother. You might be surprised at how effective a film about a sports fanatic can be. It's more depressing than I can put into words.


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