Dir. Robert Siegel
Dark comedies are usually tough to pull off successfully: The characters are usually so troubled or deeply-flawed it makes connecting with them and their struggles difficult. Their extremity of personality typically provides the humor, especially when they come into contact with larger, more “normal” society. The main characters usually come off as a bit creepy and desperate but, in a well-done story, they demonstrate perspective of “the other” in such a way as to provide counter-culture balance of some sort.
In Big Fan
we meet Paul (Patton Oswalt, handling all of the dramatic elements quite capably here), a 30+-year-old with an inane job, living at home with his mother, unsocial and happily unsociable. Paul’s a huge NY Giants fan, seemingly sacrificing any sense of self into the broader aspects of the team and its players. He’s a frequent listener/caller on a local sports talk radio show, defending his team with the passion of the over-compensating obsessive. Joined and encouraged in this by his friend Sal (the great character actor Kevin Corrigan) they live and die throughout the season with the Giants. Yet despite their slavish devotion they’re still clearly outsiders, only interacting with other fans on the radio show, going to home games but sitting out in the parking lot by themselves with a TV rigged up to Paul’s car battery. They’re definitely marginalized but couldn’t be happier in that space where there are no outside influences, just “the team.”
Out one night they spot Paul’s favorite Giants’ player, Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm), in their part of NYC. Nervously but with the superfan’s excitement they find themselves unable to approach him directly. So, instead, they follow him on his route, first to a house party and then to a strip club in Manhattan. Ignoring the girls and obscenely-overpriced drinks they focus solely on how to approach their star. But being outsiders not used to socializing in any context leaves them woefully unprepared and, in a series of miscommunications, Paul ends up greatly offending Bishop. His creepy stalking tactics send Bishop into a rage and he unleashes his fury on Paul, beating him unconscious and sending him to the hospital.
So what happens when your life gets turned brutally upside down? Paul is clearly hurt, both physically and emotionally, but still struggles with his response. The cops want him to press charges. His shyster lawyer brother sees a big payday. Everyone around him wants him to do the societal right thing. But, in Paul’s mind, he begins to realize the cost of justice to his own personal life, such as it is. The cracks in this edifice he’s maintained begin to show as Paul’s behavior becomes more and more erratic toward everyone around him. But, most especially, the story moves him into a final “showdown” with his on-air nemesis, a cross-divisional Philadelphia Eagles’ super-fan who continually taunts him on the radio show. The mania of his situation drives Paul to a final extreme reaction but one that, in the context of the film, you feel good about him committing to, as an exercise in poor judgement it may be...
is the directorial debut of Robert Siegel, former editor-in-chief of The Onion
and writer of The Wrestler
. The tone and direction is fairly even for the film even if the pacing is a bit uneven, especially toward the end of the film. But Siegel’s instincts seem to mesh well with Oswalt’s comedic sensibility and brings a root-able character quality to a sad, rather pathetic tale. Uncomfortable, uneasy, but definitely entertaining, Big Fan is a pretty solidly-told story who’s unevenness keeps it from being more memorable.