Big Fan tells the story of Paul (Patton Oswalt), a 36-year-old parking garage attendant who lives with his mother and has zero prospects in both his professional and personal life. The only thing that gives his life meaning is his passionate love affair with the New York Football Giants.
Paul’s already unstable life spirals further out of control after a disastrous encounter with his favorite player, which results in him even putting his own well-being behind his intense fandom.
I was instantly taken with the subject matter of Big Fan. As a die hard Chicago Bears fan, I know first hand the all encompassing passion and agony which comes from fanatically following a professional football team. While I’d like to think I compose myself with more dignity than the protagonist of this movie, he was never portrayed in a way that was too cartoonish to lessen my enjoyment of the film.
Also enhancing my enjoyment was an excellent performance by Patton Oswalt as Paul. Best known for comedic roles in movies like Ratatouille and TV shows like The King of Queens, Oswalt really delivers the goods here in a more dramatic role than we’re used to seeing him in. While there are some very funny moments in the film, it’s an extremely sad portrait of one of the more pathetic characters I’ve seen in a movie in quite some time, and Oswalt strikes a perfect note, in what I truly believe is an Oscar caliber performance.
The movie is also very well paced. Writer/Director Robert Siegel, who also penned last year’s downtrodden sports pic. The Wrestler, lets the story unfold in a way that successfully allows us inside Paul’s unstable psyche.
Everything culminates in a showdown with a die hard Philadelphia Eagles fan with whom Paul has formed a rivalry with on a late-nite radio call-in show. The movie takes what initially seems to be an over-the-top ending, only to pull back in a way that is both simultaneously funny and sad. I was glad to see Siegel didn’t try to force feed a happy ending, which would have been a dishonest approach when dealing with this very unhappy character.
While I like the brutal approach Siegel and Oswalt bring to the movie, it will likely put some people off. Much like World’s Greatest Dad, the Robin Williams movie from last year, Big Fan takes a noted comedic actor and puts him in a movie with a seemingly light-hearted concept, only to take us into some seriously dark and disturbing places, and as a result, I think some people will be put off.
I also fear the movie may not fully translate to non-sports fans. As someone who hangs out with a fair share of condescending schmucks who scoff at my “philistine love of athletics,” (fuck you, Robin) I know this character will seem silly to them and they won’t understand the agony he feels as his beloved Giants self-destruct. While I have never acted out in the manner Paul does by the end of this movie, I do at least comprehend the mindset it takes to behave in such a fashion. That said, I don’t think everyone will.
Aside from a few minor technical mistakes (at the end of the movie, the New York Giants’ schedule is released, revealing they play both the New England Patriots and San Diego Chargers next season. I know for a fact, the NFL schedule is set up in a way that the Giants would never play both of these teams in the same year… fuck, maybe I am as pathetic as Paul), I found very little I didn’t enjoy about Big Fan. It is very dark and deliberately depressing, but it’s also very-well constructed and acted, and very deserving of gaining a wider audience.
While there’s a lot to like here, the biggest props have to go to Oswalt. Having done solid comedic work on screen and in his very funny stand-up act, he is a full blown revelation in this very sad portrayal of a very sad individual. While I haven’t seen a great deal of the movies released this year, this is one of the very best performances I’ve come across, and if he’s capable of nailing such a complex and seemingly different character than we’re used to seeing, here’s hoping more juicy roles open up for him in the near future.
- Engaging story
- Finds a good balance between funny and dark material
- Patton Oswalt
- Too dark for some people
- May not appeal to non-sports fans
Final Score: 8.5/10