"Big Fan" - it's about football, sort of!
It’s been a while since we’ve had any hot-off-the-presses news regarding that good ol’ redheaded cousin nobody likes to talk about, the AFL, but we recently received an offer to take an advanced look at “Big Fan”, last year’s well-reviewed but barely-seen dark comedy starring Patton Oswalt. Since we’re both fans of free stuff, and JM’s been playing over here as of late, we said “hell yes”.
“Big Fan” follows Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt), a die-hard New York Giants fan that has diddly-squat to live for. When a chance encounter with his hero, the G-Men’s star linebacker Quantrell Bishop, goes seriously wrong, Paul ends up in the hospital and Bishop is benched, and the Giants’ playoff hopes start to fade faster than a Plaxico Burress touchdown route (provided he hasn’t shot himself in the leg, been arrested, or jailed). Paul decides he’s coming down with amnesia, in the hopes Bishop will get to retake the field, the Giants have a better record than the Eagles, and his rival sports talk caller, Philadelphia Phil (Michael Rapaport) will have to eat a plate of crow.
Commence the tried-and-true POINT-COUNTERPOINT:
POINT: STORY: JM: “Big Fan” is a typical indie feature – small in scope. So small that a movie about a giant Giants fan does not feature a lick of on-screen sport. Oswalt is the ultimate outsider, so far removed from the team he loves he’s forced to watch games in the Meadowlands parking lot. This, however, is to the film’s advantage. By keeping the stakes low and not going with the obvious Hollywood plot turns, “Big Fan” feels frighteningly authentic, which makes the relatively small stakes feel big and black-comedy end note all the more visceral.
TC: ADDENDUM: If there had been ONE MOMENT of football action, the story would’ve collapsed. We only are able to experience the despair and joy and hope and pathos through watching Oswalt’s reactions. We’re obligated to trust his reactions, because we get – at best – snippets of play-by-play. And more stunningly (to me): Oswalt succeeds in doing it for us. I never for one moment went “Well, this is unbelievably overboard.” This MAY be due to the fact that I’m a sports fan, and have (recently, as a matter of fact) lived and died with a team’s fortunes. Mind you, I didn’t get the crap kicked out of me by Cory Wooton (as they say in Spain: El Espoiler!) but still: it’s scary how we’re able to say to ourselves “there but for the grace of God go I.”
PATTON OSWALT, ET AL, POINT: TC: If I have one complaint with the performances, it’s that Patton Oswalt’s character is dumped into a pastiche of random Jersey/Staten Island stereotypes. So, you have this nuanced, tortured character hanging out with pretend people. With the exception of his pal, who’s a nicely affable, if dim, fellow.
Let us now discuss my favorite Patton Oswalt performance: any time he’s crafting/delivering one of his radio-call-in rants. I think I said while I was watching the movie that it reminded me of high school speech. But it’s actually the obsessive crafting of a comedy bit. It makes complete and total sense, and makes Oswalt the perfect choice. I could watch him assemble and deliver his rants all day.
JM: EXTRA POINT: I agree, Kevin Corrigan, the house-party host from “Superbad” among other stuff, is amusing as Oswalt’s dimwitted partner in fandom. His family members are somewhat generic, but I’d argue Oswalt’s performance and character keeps those stereotypes in check. Michael Rapaport is fun as the quintessential asshole fan of your rival team.
On Oswalt rehearsing his call-in rants: yes, yes, a thousand times, yes. The call-in scenes illustrate both the gross inadequacies and blind fanaticism of our protagonist. His passion is hindered by his propensity to mix metaphors and trip over his own words, which isn’t helped by the thin walls separating his bedroom from his mother’s. There’s been a quiet buzz among the critics and online community that Oswalt’s performance could make him a dark horse Oscar contender, and likewise the widened field for ten best picture nominees could give “Big Fan” a chance for wider exposure.
Which brings us to our final
POINT: OVERALL IMPRESSION: JM: I was thrilled to finally see this flick. It played in Chicago for one night at the Music Box (where I also missed a Q&A with writer/director Robert Siegel and Oswalt) back in October, and despite a strongly positive critical reception the film didn’t see a wider theatrical release after it’s initial tour. “Big Fan” is a simple story told with uncommon grace. Aside from being both a riveting drama and occasionally laugh-out-loud dark comedy, we’re given a chance to reflect on what it means to be loyal to your team, and how our teams can bring us together or drive us apart. Oswalt’s expressions when watching the final game of the regular season are priceless, and the lengths he’ll go to for the Giants are all the more bleakly comic when we consider how far removed he is from his team.
TC: Oswalt is riveting. End of line. A nuanced, graceful, subtle film, handled delicately but not fluffily. If you’re a fan of sports, you know this. And if you’re not a fan of sports, this is just scary. My main criticism is I have no idea if the last 25 minutes of the movie is buy-able if you don’t follow sports. I think it might read as just pitiful and crazy to people who haven’t expended inappropriate amounts of emotion rooting for laundry.
It nails the critical fact that the players that fans root for, obsess over, and think they know are so far removed from their fans that they may be a different species. It’s a movie that grips you, and does its work without hammering you over the head. You aren’t embarrassed enough for Oswalt to stop rooting for him, and he’s not so pitiful you feel distanced from him. Somehow it walks a tightrope for, what, 90 minutes? 110? How long was this movie?
JM: 87 minutes.
It’s a jim-dandy of a little thriller/dark comedy, and is certainly worth checking out when it’s released on DVD this Tuesday.
“Big Fan” was written and directed by “The Wrestler” scribe Robert Siegel, and stars Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrigan, and Michael Rapaport. We regret to inform you that no Eagles fans were hurt in the making of the film.