Friday, September 4, 2009

"Big Fan" Review

"Big Fan," a semi-serious comedy/drama/something-or-other starring comedian Patton Oswalt as football-obsessed man-child Paul Aufiero, rode into Philadelphia (a place Aufiero would otherwise only visit for nefarious purposes) on a wave of Sundance buzz. Robert D. Siegel, who penned last year's "The Wrestler," makes his directorial debut, and Darren Aronofsky he is not.

It isn't that "Big Fan" is at all a failure, as the film far outshines bland 2009 indie favorite "Paper Heart" and the loathsome "Humpday," but still Siegel comes across as professionally misguided as his parking garage-bound protagonist. The unfocused tone, odd ball scenes, and sloppy editing make for a curiously amateurish feature that happens to have talented actors and a good script behind it. Siegel is a writer, plain and simple.

Nevertheless, "Big Fan" exists, and is an often entertaining mishmash of genres, sentiments, ideas, and characters. The aforementioned Aufiero is the eponymous 'big fan' of the New York Giants, especially fictional quarterback Quantrell Bishop. He spends his time delivering carefully rehearsed rants on sports radio programs (in a hushed whisper so as to not disturb his mother), and watching the game on his 17" television in the stadium parking lot with his buddy Sal.

Paul has a direct impact on his fantasy world, however, when he approaches his idol in a nightclub and, well, gets the shit kicked out of him. He awakens in a hospital room Monday morning ("How did we do?") and is pitted against his family and the police department, who pressure him to press charges against the quarterback, but he's hung up what it all means for his Giants' super bowl chances.

Oswalt is perfect in his role, as is Kevin Corrigan as his dopey compatriot, and the two ground their characters somewhere real and familiar, which almost make the more bizarre plot developments in the third act believable. Almost.

And "Big Fan" is a whole movie of almosts. Almost a comedy, almost a character study, and almost successful. The psychology of Aufiero is its greatest asset, spelunking into the realm of universal obsession and the innate driving competitiveness of American culture channeled through surrogates like sports stars and celebrities. What does representational victory mean to a loser like Paul Aufiero? What does it mean to submit yourself to an intangible world that suddenly is beating you within an inch of your life? Great questions that the movie almost answers.

"Big Fan" just reeks of first film. Its construction is flawed and transparent, though has the benefit of a strong cast and interesting script, which make it a worthwhile but potentially disappointing film. That the screenplay already suffers from a thematic identity crisis only compounds the mistakes made in shot choice, lighting, timing, and tone. What's interesting about the story is just below the surface, nobly struggling to reveal itself, but only ends up ever really hinting at its presence.

I'm more than willing to see where Siegel's career takes him next, but "Big Fan" is a project that probably would have only benefited from more experienced hands.


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