Aug 27, 2009

On Big Fan

Say you have a dead end job, not a terrible amount of education, but you’re savvy and you know what you like. You like football. Discussing it, watching it. You probably played organized ball, pee wee and the like, all the way through the early years of high school, but you weren’t very good. You were always better at talking about it, just like you were always better at imagining you were having sex with girls than actually having sex with girls. You’re not really that analytical (especially about yourself), or good looking, or have a suave, Vin Scully like voice, so broadcasting ain’t for you. It’s just that, being a parking lot attendent isn’t either. What makes it bearable is listening to sports talk radio well into the darkness of another boring night under the buzzing underground fluorescents. The comraderie of fandom, weather you’re calling to extol your winning teams virtues or sing the song of desperately needed change for a miserable, struggling franchise, the slapdash, overheated rhetoric of the call in sports talk show throwdown is what you live and die for.

This is the type of person Robert Siegel has in store for you in his nearly excellent debut feature Big Fan, an altogether more credible and rewarding experience than Darren Aronofsky take on his similar sports themed script The Wrestler. In the process of revealing the delicate nature of such a man’s existence, it suggests a whole American sub-current of men like this, the jerseyed hordes who flock (when they can) to publicly subsidized sports arenas, tricked out corporate welfare palaces, ATMs for billion dollar sports outfits that largely price out there most die hard fans from frequent attendance. The season ticket holders at most major pro sports events are gentry, but trust that Patton Oswalt’s Paul Aufiero will be sitting outside Giant Stadium with his TV watching the game as the other, more luxurious tailgaters actually enter the stadium. Best buddy Kevin Corrigan in tow, Quantrell Bishop jersey on his back, if the Giants win, he couldn’t be happier and you’ll certainly hear all about it WFAN. How wonderful it is to love big blue so much when the good times roll.

But what happens when Quantrell Bishop kicks your ass in a midtown club because you and your oh so unhip homie accidently reveal to him, in your star struck foolishness, that you followed him and his posse from a Staten Island gas station to his late night, first borough destination? When all that holds together your fragile masculine identity, the success of the Giants, wilts because of how you provoked your now suspended “hero” into behaving? When a rival Eagles fan (a well cast Michael Rapport) reveals to your call in audience that you, Mr. late night sports talk prodigy, are in fact the very person Bishop beat up? These are questions the film explores with a good deal of humor and something approaching pathos. That it pulls back from the Taxi Driveresque buttons it starts to push in the third act is a shame for sure, but Mr. Siegel, added by the ever nimble low budget technician Michael Simmonds, has an eye for how to stage this very dark and intimate comedy with stripped down style.

The real reason to see this film is Mr. Oswalt. Dim but not dumb, lacking in self esteem but not without a gentle toughness, just shy of fat but almost handsome if you look at him right, Oswalt has an All-American dough boy authenticity that goes a long way toward making his portrait of this troubled Staten Island super fan work, even when he’s acting so irrationally as to stretch the limits of credibility for what die hard sports fans are capable of sacrificing for the ephemeral glory of there favorite teams.