American Football is back, and perhaps no film depicts the gridiron aficionado’s passion better than Robert D. Siegel’s wryly disturbing “Big Fan.” The indie stars comedian Patton Oswalt (of “Ratatouille” fame) as Paul, a gnome-like 36 year old parking lot attendant from Staten Island. Paul, who lives at home with his overbearing mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz), is belittled by the achievements of his brother Jeff (Gino Cafarelli) who practices law and lives in a Mansion with surgically enhanced wife.
The obvious dud in the family, Paul does have one true calling in life, to revere his beloved New York Football Giants. Paul roots for the G-Men, watching the game on a portable T.V set with his best friend Sal (Kevin Corrigan) from the outside of Giants Stadium in the cold of a New Jersey Sunday afternoon. Paul also spends his free time writing rants for a late Sports talk radio show, countering the harsh words of Philadelphia Phil (Michael Rapaport) and his own fanaticism for The Giants chief rival, The Philadelphia Eagles.
During one night with Sal enjoying a slice of pizza, Paul and his pal see their favorite Giants star, the vigorous and intimidating linebacker Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm). Seizing the opportunity to meet their hero, Paul and Sal follow Bishop all the way to Downtown Manhattan, where they decide to enter an upscale Strip Club. While cautious at first, Paul decides to break the ice. As the awkward pair is met with mockery from Bishop and his crew, Paul’s slip that he followed Bishop infuriates the football stud, who loses his cool and beats Paul unconsciously.
Paul’s family, who see his beating as an opportunity to bank, begs the injured Paul to place a lawsuit against Bishop. Also, a pesky detective is on Paul’s back to get a testimony that could harden the case against the beleaguered star. However, Paul’s loyalty for his team prevents him from revealing the truth, much to the chagrin of his annoyed mother and brother. But how long can Paul conceal the crime for the sake of his allegiance, and more so, when will the blemishes of this reclusive man be exposed for the all to ridicule?
“Big Fan” is Robert D. Siegel’s directorial debut and his written follow-up to the acclaimed “The Wrestler.” The former chief editor for the satirical news website, The Onion, has found in Sports a basis of exploring the agonies of fallen icons, and with “Big Fan,” the darker side of fandom. However, besides the references to several real-life football stars, this movie has very little to do with the pigskin. The X’s and O’s of “Big Fan” are set on Paul’s struggle to protect the endearing but possibly misguided commitment. Paul, like his Sports paraphernalia- filled room that feels decorated by a ten year old, remains stalled as the rest of the world try to find an edge in a dog eat dog society.
Nevertheless Siegel, unlike Paul’s family, never judges nor seeks to steer him out of his barren prerogatives. In fact, Siegel finds some heroism in a man who defends a possibly naïve stance from the world’s cruel declaration that he’s a pathetic and unfit sort. The brilliance behind Siegel’s direction is his subtle swift from comedy to a compelling drama that finds Paul discovering the more furious side of his persona. “Big Fan” is hard to leave your eyes off it as you hope that the drastic measures Paul resorts to don’t end him behind prison bars.
Lastly, “Big Fan” would not be complete without Patton Oswalt’s excellent performance as Paul. Oswalt’s everyman look, very similar to Ernest Bourgine’s love-craving butcher “Marty,” provides a certain honesty that wouldn’t have worked entirely if some A-list star would have gained 30 pounds to appear homely. Oswalt captures the nuances of Paul, whose state of being mostly depends on the success, and ultimately, failures of his Giants. In the film’s final image, Paul is shown the Giants’ upcoming schedule by Sal from the other side of a glass. The illumination that Paul’s face emits almost justifies the actions of this peculiar man, and Oswalt’s unflinching delivery seals “Big Fan” as one of the better American movies of the last couple of years.Trailer: