Archive Review: Big Fan (2009)

As sports fans, we always consider the degree to which we support or dedicate ourselves to the team. “Big Fan” is a character study of a man who has formed his identity and life around the New York Giants. The film preys on our expectation that every fan has a clear line when it’s time to stop being a fan and start being your own person. That’s not true of Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt).

The concept of building a film around this type of character allows “Big Fan” to explore the notion of sports psychosis. Writer, director and former Onion editor-in-chief Robert D. Siegel clearly understands that sports films haven’t gone in this direction and he already demonstrated the chops to handle unique sports-devoted characters in creating Randy “The Ram” Robinson of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler.” In “Fan,” his directorial debut, too much of good film convention is sacrificed to create Paul’s psychological profile.

The best way to describe Siegel’s error with the film is that it never goes straight down the path carved out by the set-up. Paul works a job as a parking lot attendant, but off the clock (and back home with his mother) he calls in regularly to his favorite nighttime sports radio program to defend the Giants and talk smack about the Philadelphia Eagles. His favorite player is a defensive lineman named Quantrell Bishop, so instinctively when glimpsing Bishop at a gas station, Paul and his best friend follow him. He ends up at a nightclub and when Bishop suspects him of stalking, he pummels him within an inch of his life.

The expectation is that the film will skyrocket from there. The press are sure to be busting down his door, the police will be on his case, etc. The aftermath is much tamer. The press apparently doesn’t even have his name and on three separate occasions, a detective comes to question him only for Paul to say he “doesn’t remember” when the truth is he wants Bishop back on the field so that the Giants can continue pursuing the division championship. The movie never really picks up in pace and disappoints in that regard.

It’s also hard to cozy up to Paul’s mindset. Most people wouldn’t let even their sports hero walk away if he nearly killed them, at least not without some kind of apology or settlement. He just wants to go back to being an average Giants fan. That’s all he wants in this film. He doesn’t want to live on his own, get a real job or make millions in a personal injury suit that his brother wants him to file. There’s not having traditional values and denouncing the life that your family wants you to lead, but then there’s Paul — an intriguing but fallible concept.

The biggest sin of Siegel’s story is how it veers away from being about either rectification of the assault or how Paul’s life is being forced in a direction he can’t cope with as a result. Instead it’s about getting back at the Eagles fan (Michael Rapaport) who calls in to Paul’s favorite show and trash-talks. Sure, Siegel’s point is to show how Paul wants to be a devoted fan above anything else in his life, but in route to telling us that, a lot of basic storytelling principles are violated and for a plot of this magnitude, “Big Fan” is strangely quiet.

2.5/5 Stars

Big Fan
Written and directed by Robert D. Siegel
Starring: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrigan, Michael Rapaport


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