Robert Siegel's Big Fan is a dark, daring drama that could be described as a "Taxi Driver-esque” variation on the crazy world of sports fandom but the film isn't nearly that disturbing, nor is it meant to be. Patton Oswalt's Paul Aufiero certainly has his social and emotional demons, but he'd be the first to tell you that he's generally harmless. He's like a lot of guys out there in his unwillingness to see anything beyond his favorite sports team, the New York Giants. Siegel (the writer of The Wrestler and clearly a man who knows a thing or two about the sports world) wisely makes Big Fan solely about its title character, not bringing too many supporting characters or competing viewpoints into the picture. It's not even a film about football or sports – there's not a frame of the actual game – and we don't see Paul in any context other than his love for his team and what it does to him. There are no scenes of him trying to date or socialize and even a family birthday party is there merely to set up future conflict about what befalls this poor guy. Big Fan is a finely tuned comedy/drama with a great lead performance. It ultimately feels longer than it is and is not quite as meaty or memorable as one would hope but you won't soon forget Paul Aufiero.
You may think you're a sports fan. If you're taking the time to read a movie review, you're not as big a one as Paul Aufiero. His entire world revolves around the New York Giants and their superstar defensive player Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm). He spends his days working as a fee collector at a parking garage and writing the text for what he'll say when he calls into his favorite sports radio talk show, Sports Dog. Every night, he calls Sports Dog and pumps up the Giants while ripping on the Eagles. Of course, he has a counterpart in Philadelphia Phil (Michael Rapaport), another faceless voice on the radio talking about his favorite team. Paul lives at home and is definitely in the shadow of his successful lawyer of a brother (Gino Cafarelli) but he's portrayed as being generally happy. A little obsessive, but who isn't?
Paul's obsession gets him in trouble when he's out with his buddy Sal (the always-great Kevin Corrigan) getting a slice of New York pizza. They happen to see Quantrell and, well, it takes some time to build up the courage to talk to the man who they would call their hero. So, they make the mistake of following Mr. Bishop. They follow him to a house on the seedy side of town and then to a strip club, where they first try to send him a drink and then try to make actual contact. I won't spoil what happens or the decisions Paul makes next, but let me just say that public figures don't like being followed. What happens between Paul and Quantrell that night actually affects the rest of the Giants' season and the film builds to an amazing scene where the big fan gets revenge on the person he thinks actually ruined his life (I say "thinks" because it's certainly open to debate).
Patton Oswalt gives one of the best performances of the year in Big Fan, perfectly embodying this character without over-playing him. It would have been easy for a lesser actor (and director) to turn Paul into a sad-sack, a character to laugh at from frame one. But Paul doesn't hate his life. He thinks sitting in the parking lot watching the game on an old TV with his buddy Sal is a great Sunday and doesn’t seem to mind living with his mom. And he thinks his fandom is important to the franchise. What's great about Big Fan is how much Oswalt underplays it, not turning Paul into a loser or a psycho. You can think he's that, for sure, but he certainly doesn't. He's just a big fan and the decision by Siegel and Oswalt not to judge him is the best thing about the film. The film feels longer than its brief running time and feels like it's missing a plot point or two that might have made the whole thing feel a bit weightier, but Oswalt's performance alone makes Big Fan worth seeing and for sports junkies, the movie may have a few adoring fans of its own.
Rating: THREE BONES