Directed by Robert Siegel
Former Onion editor Robert Siegel has an eye and an ear for the fringes of professional sports: he wrote last year's The Wrestler, in which Mickey Rourke's Randy "The Ram" Robinson puttered around creaky matches and poorly attended meet-and-greets, hoping for a comeback. Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt), the title character in Siegel's directorial debut Big Fan, is the type of guy Randy might run into in a parking lot, only Paul doesn't follow wrestling; he follows pro football, specifically and obsessively the New York Giants. He lives with his mother on Staten Island, and spends the time he must kill in between Giants games composing missives for his frequent calls to sports radio, and executing said rants with triumphant true-believer fervor — at least until his mom yells through the wall to keep it down. Siegel understands the way fans can build their own worlds out of the merest of materials, and brings us in with long takes of Paul's call-in exploits, static scenes that become weirdly mesmerizing.
Patton Oswalt made his bones, of course, as a stand-up comic, which proves key to this fine performance — he funnels the wiseassed frustration of his routines (and his work as Remy the rat in Pixar's Ratatouille) into a passion equal in strength but lacking an outlet as productive as cooking or comedy. Paul proves capable of some boneheaded decisions, especially after an encounter with a star quarterback leaves him bruised, but Oswalt doesn't make him into a scary dope — scenes like the one where he mocks his mother for saving Chinese sauce packets come at his shielded sadness from a funny, affecting angle.
Oswalt's prickliness keeps Siegel from condescending too much to the outer-outer borough; Paul's gaudy family verges on caricature, and sometimes the script overreaches for its metaphors. Having Paul and his buddy Sal (Kevin Corrigan) watch the games from the parking lot is a swell visual comment on their SI-outsider status, for example, but does it actually make sense? Paul has a steady if menial job and, judging from the bedroom he keeps decorated in the style of a tweenage sports fan, minimal expenses; the idea that he wouldn't spring for the occasional game ticket feels like a writer's conceit.
Granted, if you need someone to sit in the parking lot of Giants stadium watching the game on a crummy TV hooked up to a car battery, Corrigan is the right guy for the job, having already logged time as the dim sidekick to a Buffalo Bills-loving Vincent Gallo in Buffalo 66. Big Fan makes a strong companion piece to the Gallo film; now then, who wants to go and make an uncomfortable, darkly comic movie about the Jets?
Opens August 28