Big Fan (2009, Siegel)
Most films, in some capacity, are about change. Films are filled with characters that change, for better or worse, due to the events taking place within the story. Big Fan, written and directed by The Wrestler screenwriter Robert D. Siegel, is captivating because it is about a man who outright refuses to change.
Paul (Patton Oswalt) is a 36 year old man who works as a parking garage attendant, still living with his mother who resentfully does everything for him. He is also a big New York Giants fan. In fact, everything and anything not having to do with the New York Giants means nothing to Paul. He has ostracized himself from his family who tolerates him and he in return tolerates them. His best friend Sal (Kevin Corrigan) is the only person who Paul connects with, not surprisingly because he is too, a huge Giants fan.
The plot of Big Fan involves Paul’s unfortunate run in with Giants player Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm) who also happens to be Paul’s hero. The encounter ends very badly and Paul ends up in the hospital. From there the film depicts Paul’s incessant need to maintain his loyalty to his team and the toll his refusal takes on him.
The screenplay, while rife with realist observation is also sprinkled with moments of black comedy during the scenes involving Paul’s family. The film never invites us to laugh at Paul, as much as it asks us to look upon him with pity. As for his family, while they are unmistakably seen as more sensible people, they are shown to us in the way that Paul sees them; as pitiful creatures in their own right.
Make no mistake that while this is a film worth seeing because of its character study of sports fanaticism, the reason to see this film is for Patton Oswalt’s performance. The actor dives into Paul, not afraid to be as selfish and as child like as he can be and never afraid of losing his audience. Oswalt understands that characters like this simply do not exist in most films and he uses that opportunity to depict Paul as truthfully as he can. He portrays Paul as someone who never second guesses his life choices but as someone who does understand that he has made those choices. It is a great performance and one not to be missed.
Big Fan is not a perfect film. The last act heavily depends on manipulation and Siegel’s overall direction is unfortunately so bland that it is noticeable. Perhaps if another director had taken over from his own script, the film would have been truly great. In other words, Siegel the director is a deterrence to Siegel the writer.
Despite this, Siegel has created a nicely loose character study that deals with the psychology of one particular sports fan and the voids that a certain level of fanaticism can fill in someone’s life when they need it. Paul is someone who uses football to escape and it alone makes him so happy that the rest of his life remains at a standstill causing Paul to still be a child in his immaturity, lack of responsibility, self support and perception. His screenplay is not addled with insightful moments or attempts at connection or change. Paul has fused his life’s meaning with a football team and that kind of loyalty is not about to be challenged by a cliched script; in a way, Siegel stays loyal to Paul.