Written and directed by Robert Siegel Starring Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrigan, Marcia Jean Kurtz and Michael Rappaport Rated R *8* Goes well with: The Fan, The Wrestler, The King of Comedy
Being a sports fan can be painful. There’s nothing quite as horrific as following your team through a losing season, witnessing a favorite player choke or staring in disbelief as your guys snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And for the absolutely diehard fans, the ones that eat, drink and breathe sports, there’s nothing as pride-damaging as hearing a disciple of a rival team talk smack about your guys—especially when they’re right on the money.
In Big Fan, Robert Siegel takes another long, hard look at the painful side of sports, much as he did in his screenplay for The Wrestler, the movie that gave Mickey Rourke his career back. But Big Fan really isn’t a sports film. No, this is a character study of Paul Aufielo (Patton Oswalt), a diehard New York Giants booster who’s built his entire identity around his hero worship of the team and its star linebacker, Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm).
Now, Paul is a big fan with a small life. He’s 35, living with his mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz) and working a job as a parking-lot attendant, which gives him plenty of time each day to write his scripts. No, Paul’s not an aspiring screenwriter; he’s an active sports-radio caller, a minor celebrity on a late-night call-in show who defends his beloved Giants against the blistering vitriol of Eagles fan Philadelphia Phil. It may not be much, but it’s his life, and he’s happy with it. Offers from his brother-in-law for a better job are rebuffed, because even though he may not have achieved much, even though he doesn’t have much ambition, Paul doesn’t need it. He’s got his Giants and his Bishop jersey—what else would he need?
But that changes when he and his lone friend, Sal (indie vet Kevin Corrigan), spy Bishop riding around town with his posse. They follow him to a strip club, buy him a drink and manage to piss him off so much that he beats Paul into a coma. And when he comes to, well, it’s first and 20. How do you deal with being pummeled by your hero? How do you deal with your family, who want you to sue Bishop for everything he’s got? How do you deal with the cops, who want to see him put behind bars? And how do you deal with the fact that your team lost last week because its best player was summarily suspended for assaulting his biggest fan?
Sure, the right thing to do seems obvious, but not to Paul. Take away Quantrell Bishop, and you take away the Giants’ chance to win. Take away the Giants’ chance to win, and you take away Paul’s reason for living. There are very few things that Paul Aufielo truly wants, and he has unintentionally jeopardized all of them, just by being such a big fan. Siegel is clearly a Scorsese fan. The Wrestler sits nicely next to Raging Bull, and Big Fan has its roots in a film like Taxi Driver. It’s ultimately a small-time tragedy, and Oswalt, the comic best known for voicing Remy the rat in Ratatouille, absolutely delivers in his first dramatic role, creating a character who’s barely likable and not at all admirable but who’s utterly pitiable for what befalls him.
Yes, there is violence in sports, and there is violence in Big Fan, but most of it is emotional, and as a repressed man-child, Paul is absolutely unprepared for it when it arrives. Like Taxi Driver’s Travis Bickle or Rupert Pupkin in The King of Comedy (another great one from Scorsese), his own misery eventually forces him to take a stand against the emotional onslaught that faces him, tracking down the man he perceives to be his nemesis in all this. For most of us, in any situation like this, that person would be Quantrell Bishop, the person who beat us down and put us in this situation. But not for Paul. Because remember, Paul is, if nothing else, a big fan. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com. Would you like your online comment to be considered for publication in our print edition? Include your true full name and neighborhood of residence.