I've been a sports fan most of my life, inoculated primarily with Cardinals baseball passion by Harry Carey while growing up in the 1960s. So I remember the days of "living and dying" with my team and can understand the numerous fans I meet who continue to do so. Like most "normal" fans, I've learned to detach from my favorite teams to a degree—realizing that such fandom inevitably leads to unrequited love … that no team can ever love its fans beyond the financial bottom line that keeps the franchise afloat. I know people who go well beyond that, however—ones who claim to be the team's “biggest fan” that seem to have little going for themselves beyond their sports obsession. It's pretty pitiful, but I do know the breed. That's why I was so mesmerized by Robert Siegel's quirky independent film.
Not only does Big Fan explore the lifestyle of a hopelessly unbalanced fan, but it can serve as therapeutic shock therapy that may bring a sense of reality back to viewers who are similarly afflicted. Movies occasionally serve such vicarious life lessons, and this film would be far less painful than actually following the footsteps of the film's pathetic protagonist.
Paul (Paul Oswalt) is your average Joe fan in his mid thirties, but he still lives with his mother and works a late shift as a parking garage attendant. Enclosed in a glass bubble at work, Paul's entire life centers around his beloved New York Giants, so he spends most of his waking hours writing up and polishing his "take" that he nightly calls in to the local sports talk radio. "Paul of Staten Island" competes with hated fan "Philadelphia Phil" with these scripted post-midnight Giants props and Eagles put-downs. This nightly call marks the highlight of Paul's day; it's what he lives for every day of the year—whether it's football season or not. There's never an off-season since Paul can dream about roster moves, draft picks, and fantasize about the coming season.
His best friend (perhaps only friend) Sal (Kevin Corrigan) is almost as bad, but he only listens to the sports talk radio show and admires his buddy's "spontaneous" analysis of their beloved Giants. The only events that comes close to transcending the late night sports radio show are the Giants games themselves; the two buddies never miss a home game. However, they aren't cool enough or wealthy enough to see the games in person. Instead, they head to their New Jersey stadium parking lot as tailgaters. While the game unfolds, they sit in the parking lot glued to a small TV set inside their car trunk. They even think their very presence influences the karma of the Universe and determines the fortunes of their beloved Giants.
Paul's mother is more grounded in reality. She thinks her son is pathetic and immature, habitually yelling when he calls into the sports talk radio show and even brazenly remarking that the only relationship he has ever had is his "right hand." Paul's relationship with his mother is never destined to spark change or growth; it would take something far more drastic—a real love interest.
And that's what takes place one late night when Paul and Sal unexpectedly spot their Giants hero Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm) in Staten Island. They stalk him from an unsavory local neighborhood to Times Square, following him into a swanky men's club where high priced drinks and lap dances are the norm. After staring at Bishop, the pair tentatively approach their hero, and the narrative radically shifts—putting the Giants playoff hopes in jeopardy and provoking Paul to examine his life choices.
Despite relying heavily on the sports world, Big Fan evolves into far more than the usual cliché sports movie. Remarkably provocative, it metaphorically digs into character nuances much like director Siegel's script does in The Wrestler. Comedian Patton Oswalt effectively delivers the clueless mentality of the empty headed sports fanatic to life, immersing himself into obsessive oblivion just like the pure sports fans that we've all met. These people ARE real, and Oswalt delivers this pitiable lifestyle flawlessly. They could never be real athletes themselves, nor are they destined to make a living from the sports world. But they will allow themselves to vicariously suffer the ups and downs of their sports heroes and teams every day to the point that it can suck the very marrow of life from their bones and wallets.
This film effectively serves as a wake-up call to anyone similarly afflicted; it's a gem of a film—among the better offerings from 2009.