In his directorial debut, The Wrestler screenwriter Robert Siegel creates another well-scripted character portrait with 2009′s Big Fan (on DVD Jan 12). As an examination of professional sports and fandom in general, Siegel turns the digital camera towards the supporters who live and die by the victories and losses of strangers wearing the right uniform.
Paul Aufiero is a 36-year-old die-hard football fan who lives with his mother and spends his nights hunched over at the window of a parking garage booth. Patton Oswalt‘s Paul is simultaneously a dopey loser, a heart-breaking underdog, and a dark follower in the ups and downs of an engaging performance by the charismatic comedian.
Oswalt skillfully puts a face to fanaticism as the eager New York Giants devotee who attempts to contain his excitement before each big game and sports the jersey of his hero, Quantrell Bishop (newcomer Johnathan Hamm). Unable to afford tickets, Paul and his only friend Sal (Kevin Corrigan) tailgate outside the stadium to root Bishop and company on in person (almost).
Paul obsesses over the Giants, reveling in pathetically pre-written phoners to late night sports talk radio where he regularly taunts a Philadelphia Eagles fan. Paul may not be a player, but this is his arena and the weekly trash talk makes him feel like somehow part of the team. Siegel pulls the character uncomfortably close until his delusions are a depressing reflection of the audience’s own addictions: sports, reality television, politics, money, food, books, music, or in my case film.
On a night out with Sal, the duo stumbles across Bishop, who turns out to be a typical overpaid thug scoring drugs and throwing cash at strippers. Paul nervously introduces himself at the club only to be beaten within an inch of his life by his long-time idol over a misunderstanding.
The physical effects are brutal, but the more psychologically-damaged Paul finds himself coping with loyalty, to himself and to his team. Siegel doesn’t stage a major event immediately after his attack, instead focusing in as he quietly agonizes over the incident.
As the moody movie climaxes, Paul is pushed to the edge by his brother, a sleazy personal injury lawyer; his radio rival; and the anguish that he may have cost the Giants a playoff run.
There’s always next season.
4 out of 5.