Big Fan – Movie Review
From the slums of Shaolin, or “Staten Island” for those of you who don’t speak ‘Wu’ comes the new movie from The Wrestler writer Robert D. Sigel – Big Fan. Joining him for his directorial debut is “King of Queens” star and voice of Ratatoulie Patton Oswalt. It’s a dark brooding bulldozer of a film that the team of Sigel and Oswalt pull off with exceptional craftsmanship. It’s also resulted in the first time anyone has ever used the words “exceptional craftsmanship” in association with anything having to do whatsoever with Staten Island.
Big Fan is an exploration of the life of Paul Aufiero. Paul (Oswalt) is an exceptionally obsessive New York Giants fan. He’s a 35-year-old who still lives at home, surrounded by his Giants bedsheets, Giants posters and finds happiness from attending Giants games (by watching a television in the parking lot of Giants stadium since he can’t afford a ticket) and calling in once-a-week with a pre-written rehearsed phone call to his local sports radio show. The New York Giants are his greatest passion, and he holds hia highest regard for their star linebacker Quantrell Bishop. When he finally meets his hero after following him to a New York nightclub, a fight ensues and Paul finds himself hospitalized and faced with the dilemma of potentially pressing assault charges that would wind up costing his favorite team greatly. Not helping the situation is the pressure Aufiero feels from his passively nagging Mother (Cry Uncle’s Marcia Jean Kurtz), his big-shot local attorney brother Jeff (Gino Cafarelli) and his only admirer and friend Sal ( “Grounded For Life’s” Kevin Corrigan).
Not unlike his work in The Wrestler, Siegel uses Big Fan to bring the viewer deep into one man’s existence within a very devoted and unacknowledged subculture. As wildly popular as football is in America, the excessive fandom explored in the film is a far cry from the typical Americana jock or blue collar enthusiast most associated with sport. Instead, Aufiero is an antisocial eccentric who lives only for his team. To him, football isn’t a hobby. It’s a way of life. But instead of being a one-joke throwaway character, what makes Aufiero so interesting to follow is the dedication and understanding in Oswalt’s performance.
Patton Oswalt brings the collector’s neurosis from his stand-up comedy into the character to an incredible effect. With his humor most known for reflecting his own love of niche interests like comics and horror films into obscure references and a giant web of pop culture, Oswalt takes those same sensibilities and translates them into the personality of a troubled Giants fan. He celebrates his eccentricity by fervently referencing his passion whenever possible, particularly in verbally chastising the antagonist he’s created for himself in rival sports radio caller Philadelphia Phil (Michael Rapaport, whose casting in this role is the stuff dreams are made of) who he debates on the air until things become too personal.
What may alienate the film to some people is the marketing that has made the film resemble a “sports film.” While the Giants are what makes the main character’s heart beat, this film is as much about football as Taxi Driver was about the cab industry. It’s a captivating character study that seems to tell an entire life story through the snapshot of a month of a person’s life. Not unlike Deniro’s Travis Bickle, Oswalt’s Paul Aufiero has his own gritty New York borough that shapes his perspective. Only instead of the perverse glamour of Manhattan, Aufiero has the oft-ignored Staten Island.
It’s refreshing to see a “New York” film taking place in the fifth borough, and Siegel does a great job catching all of its quirks. With the exception of Oswalt, the entire cast is New York-born, adding to the authenticity. But while the surroundings help define Aufiero’s plodding existence and greatly aid both the temp of the film and the character’s logic, the bleakness occasionally gets in the way of scenes themselves and leave a desire for more from the surrounding characters. Still, the film doesn’t reek of “trying to be quirky” or “trying to be dark” or “trying to be different.” It truly is quirky, dark, different, and a must see.
We Give Big Fan a Four Out of Five
Until next time, let’s agree to agree!