Big Fan, the directing debut of Robert D. Siegel (who wrote The Wrestler, and who hasn’t directed a film since Big Fan)), is the all-too-accurate portrayal of Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt), a sad, pathetic, mentally imbalanced, unhealthily obsessed fan of the New York Giants. It’s a brutal, unflinching depiction, so uncomfortable in parts that it’s difficult to watch. For anyone going in to a Patton Oswalt film expecting a comedy, put those expectations aside. Big Fan is a dark, realistic look at the kind of guy you know exists, but would almost rather not know. He’s the man behind so many of the voices we hear on Sports Talk radio.
Paul Aufiero works a night-shift at a parking garage in Staten Island, collecting money from patrons while listening to local sports talk radio. He spends much of his shift composing anti-Philadelphia Eagle rants on a notepad that he delivers on the talk-radio program once he gets home, to the immense pleasure of his equally pathetic best friend, Saul (Kevin Corrigan), who listens in awe each night from his bed. Paul lives with his mother in what’s clearly the same room he grew up in — it’s plastered with New York Giants paraphernalia, highlighted by a huge poster of his favorite Giant, defensive lineman Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm, not Jon Hamm). Each night, after delivering his talk-radio spiel, Paul gets under his NFL sheets and masturbates himself to sleep, content with his day singularly obsessing over the Giants. The one break in Paul’s pitiable routine comes on Sundays, when he and Saul go to the Meadowlands for the tailgate party before hooking up a small television to the car and watching the game from the parking lot outside of the stadium.
The unsettling break in his routine comes one night while Paul and Saul are eating pizza at a gas station and notice Quantrell Bishop along with his entourage outside pumping gas. Thrilled at the prospect of meeting his favorite player, Paul tails Quantrell to a Manhattan strip club, where an innocent fan interaction goes bad. Quantrell beats the living hell out of Paul, putting him in the hospital for several days, and earning himself a suspension from the team.
At this point, you’d expect the movie to be about a fan coping with the fact that his favorite player on his favorite team hospitalized him — how a fan was alienated and ostracized by the rest of the city for getting the star player suspended and threatening the Giants’ playoff run. And how he rose above the criticism and was vindicated when he won a multimillion dollar verdict against the star player.
This is not that movie.
Paul feels guilty; he doesn’t want to be responsible for the Giants coming apart down the stretch. He wants to quietly make the case go away. He doesn’t want to pursue charges. He doesn’t want to sue. He just wants everything to return to the way it was before the beating — he wants to spend his days in the parking garage composing rants for sports talk radio and masturbating himself to sleep in his mother’s house. Every night. For the rest of his life.
Instead, Big Fan takes an even darker turn. It goes into unexpected places, but what’s remarkable is that everything that happens is in keeping with the Oswalt’s character. You don’t want to think that anyone’s hero worship could be as obstinate and pathetic as Paul’s is, but you know that people like him exist, and that they’d make the same heartbreakingly boneheaded choices.
It’s appropriate, too, that Siegel wrote The Wrestler script for Darren Aronofsky, because Big Fan almost feels like the sports version of Aronofsky’s Requiem for a Dream, traveling the a similar downward spiral. It’s a bleak film, deliberate, slow, and ugly. My God is it ugly - cinematographer Michael Simmonds seems to take pains to illustrate what an unattractive schlub Patton Oswalt is. He’s like a tubby, greasy-pizza of a man, and everything about Big Fan makes you want to go home and take a shower, as if the stinky oiliness of fast-good grease, Mountain Dew, and crusty semen had rubbed off on you. It’s an unnerving study of a terribly warped sports fan, and while there is some humor in places, it’s nothing you ever find yourself laughing at. You flinch and grimace and squirm and hope that the band-aid will be removed as quickly as possible. But it never is. Robert Siegel tears it off slowly and painfully. And while it’s a movie that deserves to be seen, it’s not a movie you’d consider seeing twice.