September 02, 2009
In "Big Fan," Robert Siegel, award-winning writer of "The Wrestler," turns his attention from pro wrestling to the NFL. "Big Fan" is similar to "The Wrestler" in that it's a sports-themed movie centered around a lonely guy with some big-time problems, but it's safe to say that no one's ever going to confuse Randy "The Ram" Robinson with the hero of "Big Fan," Paul Aufiero.
Paul (talented comedian Patton Oswalt, who deserves every bit of the praise he's getting for his work here) is a New York Giants fan. It may be more accurate to say that Paul is a New York Giants extremist. The Giants are his life, and I don't mean that in a broad "He really likes the Giants" kind of sense. The Giants are his social life, his personal life and his life's pursuit. Every minute away from his job as a parking lot attendant is spent on supporting the Giants, praising the Giants, talking about the Giants, admiring the Giants, or defending the Giants from a fellow sports radio call-in regular named "Philadelphia Phil."
His Giant-love isn't returned, though. Paul has an encounter at a bar with fictional linebacker Quantrell Bishop, the fiercest and most famous of the Giants, and it ends with Bishop beating his biggest fan unmercifully. Paul wakes up days later in a hospital bed.
What do you do when the love of your life turns on you?
Paul isn't a lonely guy because everything in his life is devoted to the New York Giants. Everything in his life is devoted to the New York Giants because Paul's a lonely guy. In that way, the movie doesn't have anything to do with the NFL; that just happens to be where Paul chooses to sink his energies. They've got no place else to go. He's got a miserable, lonely job, he can't relate to his family (in his defense, I'd have a hard time relating to his brother, too), and as his mother oh-so-painfully points out, he's not dating much, either.
Paul's still a man, though, men have passions, and that passion has to go somewhere. It's a little unlucky for Paul that he didn't choose "Star Wars," Civil War re-enactments, comic books or stamp collecting. Stamps are never going to kick the hell out of you in a nightclub.
He chose the NFL, though, and the timing of the movie is interesting, in that there are a lot of football fans out there right now also asking themselves, "How much am I willing to forgive from my favorite star athletes?" Michael Vick(notes) didn't do anything to any of us personally, but for some, he does stretch the limits of what we're willing to look past when NFL Sundays roll around.
What Vick did was brutal and heinous. Yet, in his first preseason game with the Eagles, though, he was cheered like a conquering hero. Keep that in mind when watching Paul struggle through his ordeal.
Something else NFL fans can take away from the movie is the look at the culture of sports talk radio call-in shows, which mirror so many of the message board "conversations" out there in the NFL Internet community. These things can consume people, especially when they turn personal. You might not be losing sleep over a flame war based on the merits of Eli Manning(notes) against Philip Rivers(notes), but the person you're arguing with might.
Siegel, in his directorial debut, has given us the rare sports movie that transcends the last-second play, the CGI crowd going nuts, or a neatly tied-up story about an underdog with the odds stacked against him. "Big Fan" wants you to think about human nature and the nature of fanhood.
"Big Fan" opens in Los Angeles and select cities on Sept. 11, and opens nationwide throughout September. Rated R.
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