The psyche of a beyond-the-pale sports nerd is probed, dissected, exposed and otherwise held up to the light in “Big Fan.” Directing debut by “The Wrestler” screenwriter Robert Siegel stands as something of a companion piece to Darren Aronofsky’s film by virtue of the intense focus it trains on an antisocial man, its grubby near-New York working class setting, the sports milieu and overall extreme behavior stemming from obsession. It’s a small, peculiar film, one unlikely to appeal much to women, non-sports fans and mainstreamers, but its uncomfortable comic insights should win it a loyal following in limited theatrical play and down the line when accompanied at home by beer and pizza.
Stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt, who bears more than a passing resemblance to the late Lou Costello, plays Paul Aufiero, the ultimate New York Giants fan. In the isolation of his pay booth at a parking garage, the chubby 36-year-old listens to sports radio all day and scribbles notes for diatribes he delivers on his favorite call-in show at night from the small Staten Island home he shares with his shrill, nagging mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz).
Loyally congratulating Paul on his every word is scruffy pal Sal (Kevin Corrigan). The two head to the Meadowlands for every Giants home game but, unable to afford tickets, they watch the games on TV from the parking lot. They’re big-time losers in urgent need of a life, something Paul’s wealthy ambulance-chasing lawyer brother Jeff (Gino Cafarelli) tries to remedy. But Paul is a born bottom-dweller for whom upward mobility is not an option.
Throwing Paul’s life into a spin is a chance encounter with his favorite Giant, linebacker Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm). Following the star’s car into Manhattan, Paul and Sal pursue him into a pricey strip club where the bling-laden Bishop and his entourage surround themselves with pole dancers. Heedless of etiquette and even unaware how laughably out of place they are, they breach the social barrier. Bishop goes off, leaving a pummeled Paul in his wake.
What follows is a very odd study of denial, obstinacy and refusal to reconsider hero worship even when said hero has nearly killed you. While the Giants put Bishop on suspension after to the incident, Paul declines to press charges. A detective (Matt Servitto) hounds him to get his version of events and Jeff files a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the player despite his idiot brother’s opposition. For his part, Paul returns to work and only frets that Bishop’s continued absence from the team might allow the hated Philadelphia Eagles to win the division.
Further weirdness leads the script into quasi-Travis Bickle territory, with queasy results, until Siegel pulls a fast one at the end. You don’t know quite what you’re left with other than a character study of a very warped individual probably destined to live out his life without changing; it would seem that he could only get worse.
Oswalt unerringly captures the mania of this sort of social misfit, such as one can hear any day on sports talkradio. Fortunately, the actor’s comic smarts and sense of timing leaven the characterization with considerable humor; without it, Paul would be very hard to take. Corrigan provides a plausible go-along second banana, while most of the supporting roles require their actors to impersonate very loud and argumentative New Yawk types, which they do with absolute conviction.
Shot with the Red digital camera, the pic has a down-and-dirty look that matches its milieu.