Big Fan

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Posted September 3, 2009 in Film

Though the American Dream weeps when you say it, life is a game and some people won’t win. Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt) is one of them. Paul sits all day in his parking lot toll booth scribbling furiously in his notepad. He’s not writing the next great novel—he’s scripting the pro-Giants rant he’ll recite that night on talk radio. Paul’s mind never thinks past that weekend’s game, which is part of why he’s never moved out of his mom’s house or put his mental energy towards self-improvement. Instead, he lives through his favorite football players: their victories are his, their women, their fame, their money, their glory. Except they don’t know—or care—that Paul exists.

 

This truth literally hits Paul over the head when he and his best friend Sal (Kevin Corrigan) spot Giants quarterback Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm) at a gas station and spend the night tracking their hero through Manhattan. From across a high-end strip club, they gawk and plan their in to say hello, but they’re so unhip that they send him over a screwdriver. When they finally brave Bishop’s drunken and rowdy VIP corner, it’s as agonizing as middle school. Paul and Sal are beaming; Bishop and his friends patronizing, then unnerved. What happens next lands Paul in the hospital and puts the Giants in peril of losing the NFL championship. The only way Paul can save the day is to sacrifice himself, even though his Jersey-rich lawyer brother is chomping to file a million-dollar lawsuit that could change the family’s fortunes.

 

Writer-director Robert D. Siegel penned The Wrestler, and the two films share a love of good sportsmanship, even if it comes at a cost. Both Paul and Randy the Ram only live for those few hours a week when men cheer on men. But while Randy threw away his life, Paul’s never had one, and Big Fan gets its hooks into us and makes us feel his pain and confusion, even if Oswalt gets so increasingly withdrawn that the character becomes just a cypher for our own emotions. A lot of Big Fan is very quiet and in the second half, it feels like the audience is doing all the work of investing in a situation when Paul wants to pretend it never happened. The swaggering, pitcher-hoisting entrance of Paul’s mortal enemy Philadelphia Phil (Michael Rapaport), an Eagles nut, seems like a Hail Mary pass to come up with an ending. Big Fan isn’t a touchdown, but its patient torture reminded me of the rest of the world’s football: tense stretches of nothing with enough killer moments to cheer.


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