Comedian Patton Oswalt plays Giants fanatic Paul Aufiero in Big Fan. ( © 2009 Big Fan Productions, Inc.)
Directed by former Onion editor and screenwriter of The Wrestler Robert Siegel, Big Fan mines the depths of the comedy of excruciation. Like the underrated Scorsese classic The King of Comedy, Big Fan is concerned with the black hole of mass culture and how those who get too close sometimes fall in. It’s a strange, brittle little film, darkly comic, and while not bracingly brutal like The King Of Comedy, it still packs a quirky, off-kilter charge.
Paul Aufiero (comedian Patton Oswalt) is an abject loser. He lives with his mother, works at a parking lot, never married, and is deeply, madly obsessed with the New York Giants. Every waking moment is spent on the Giants, watching games and composing achingly banal diatribes that he reads to a sports radio call-in. His life is a vacuous consecration to a monolith that doesn’t care about him. But there’s something oddly brave and pure about his devotion. He’s not depressed, he doesn’t want more.
One Saturday night, Paul and his adoring friend Sal are eating pizza when they spot their favorite player Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm) at a gas pump. They follow him to a strip club in Manhattan and after a couple of rounds of drinks, they cross the unspoken line and Paul ends up nearly stomped to death by Bishop.
After the attack, Paul’s obsession deepens, and the film does not shy away from the strange and icky places it takes him. Patton Oswalt’s wry, fearless performance at the center of Big Fan provides both the film’s heft and its deadpan winking. Oswalt’s background is as a literate, lacerating comic whose strange, elongated stories are both profane and brainy. A small, dwarfish man, Oswalt brings an intelligence and deftness to Paul. As schlubby as he is, he never allows himself to become a victim or to be treated condescendingly.
The rest of the cast and characters are sterling. Siegel has an excellent ear and eye for Northeastern blue-collar culture. Paul’s ambulance-chasing brother and his “trophy” wife are priceless, and his beaten down Catholic mother is heartbreaking.
Rambling and episodic, Big Fan is a bit slight for the big screen. Some of Siegel’s moves as a first-time director feel amateurish. Nevertheless, it’s a promising start and a mean little vehicle to display Oswalt’s prodigious talent. A-
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