WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Thirty-five-year-old parking attendant Paul Aufielo is the epitome of the obsessive fanboy. He lives with his mom toils in a dead-end job and has no romantic life to speak of. But Paul’s pop-culture obsession isn’t anime or comic books or World of Warcraft; it’s pro football — the New York Giants to be precise. He lives and dies by the team defending it nightly on sportsradio talk shows against the barbs of rival callers.
Paul’s mundane yet steady existence is upended rather suddenly when he and his best friend fellow die-hard Giants fan Sal happen to spot the Giants’ star linebacker Quantrell Bishop filling up at a neighborhood gas station. Emboldened by the chance sighting of their larger-than-life hero they decide to follow his car ending up at — where else? — a strip club.
But when Paul finally works up the courage to approach Quantrell and introduce himself the encounter takes a disastrous turn when he accidentally provokes the superstar and ends up on the receiving end of a brutal beating.
Days later Paul wakes up in a hospital to learn that he suffered severe head trauma during the incident. Worse yet Quantrell has been suspended indefinitely by the NFL pending results of the police investigation of the assault putting the Giants’ playoff hopes in jeopardy.
Amazingly Paul balks at pressing charges against Quantrell in the silent hope that it might result in the linbacker returning to the Giants for the crucial playoff run. Plagued by the after-effects of a severe concussion and under pressure from a skeptical detective and bewildered family members Paul is soon forced to decide between his well-being and the one thing that makes his being worthwhile.
WHO’S IN IT?
Making his directorial debut with Big Fan screenwriter Robert Siegel (The Wrestler) took the bold step of casting comedian Patton Oswalt in the lead role of Paul. It’s a risk that pays off as Oswalt’s legendary fanboy ethos translates surprisingly well to the realm of sports fanaticism.
In the role of Paul’s more level-headed friend Sal is prolific character Kevin Corrigan (American Gangster The Departed) while Matt Servitto (The Sopranos) plays the detective saddled with a confoundingly uncooperative witness.
The cult of celebrity long ago spread beyond the borders of Hollywood and Big Fan offers a clever insightful examination of the phenomenon as it relates to the world of professional sports. Paul is the quintessential diehard whose loyalty and unflinching devotion to his favorite team keeps the whole apparatus afloat. If the premise of Big Fan seems outlandish simply search for “Oakland Raiders fans” on YouTube and watch in horror.
Big Fan has its humorous moments but its overall tone is much more tragic than comic as one might expect from the guy who gave us The Wrestler.
As Big Fan marches towards its climax the story heretofore anchored in realism veers abruptly into some borderline ridiculous territory (hint: There’s a kidnapping scheme). It’s a shift that tests the limits of Oswalt’s dramatic range.
Siegel used actual New York Giants team logos for Big Fan risking the ire of an intensely image-conscious NFL. It’s a brave decision that makes the movie far more effective than if Paul were a devotee of say the New York Roughriders or some similarly lame-sounding fictional franchise.