I don't have what it takes to be a fanboy. I was reminded of this while watching Robert Siegel's Big Fan. For while I have my fair share of subjects about which I'm passionate*, I know where to draw the line**. Patton Oswalt's Paul Aufiero? Not so much.
Oswalt stars as Paul, a parking garage attendant in his late-thirties who still lives at home with his mother and has no aspirations or interests other than the New York Giants. He spends his hours at work writing diatribes for the local sports radio call-in show, most of which are aimed at Philidelphia Phil, an Eagles fan who regularly calls the show to antagonize Giants supporters***. Paul's sole friend is Sal, played by Kevin "If They Knew Shit They Wouldn't be Puerto Ricans" Corrigan. The two of them attend every Giants home game -- in the parking lot, watching the game on a small television hooked up to Paul's car.
One night while at a pizzeria, the pair catches glimpse of Giants star linebacker Quantrell Bishop outside. With hardly a word exchanged between the two, they decide to follow Bishop's party around Staten Island and into a Manhattan strip club. There, after Paul and Sal awkwardly work up the courage to approach Quantrell's table, things take a turn for the worse and Paul winds up in the hospital. Paul's brother, a lawyer, tries to convince Paul to sue for millions of dollars, and a police detective needs to get Paul's account of the night in question in order to press charges against Quantrell Bishop. Paul, the big Giants fan he is, though, feigns amnesia. Because if the Giants lose Bishop, their shot at the playoffs is comprimised.
The film's title doesn't lie; Paul must really love the New York Giants.
But how realistic is that? Never mind the criminal, sports-fan loyalty aspect, which is believable if not profoundly disturbed. No, my question is What man would give up guaranteed millions in a lawsuit or settlement just so his favorite player -- who almost killed him -- could maybe help his team make the playoffs? Paul's character is certainly written in such a way that you can buy it in the film, but, wow, would that ever happen in a million years? In ten million?
One other narrative error the film makes is failing to address Sal being at the scene of the crime. Sal was there. He saw what happened. So why don't the police talk to him? Maybe they do, but the film never answers that gaping hole of a plot point. Maybe Paul convinced him to keep his mouth shut, but, again, the viewer is left only to assume (and you know what that entails). Am I supposed to believe two people -- and an entire club full of patrons! -- could so deftly evade questioning by NYC's finest? I'd sooner believe Sandy Duncan is a boy who can fly.
Needless to say, after Paul gets out of the hospital things start to go bad. The Giants have suspended Bishop pending further investigation, and Paul's family -- rightly so -- is concerned that his injuries might include slight brain damage. When the Giants go on a losing streak and the Eagles catch up to them in the standings (always with Philadelphia Phil egging Paul on), Paul decides to take matters into his own hands, albeit as only he, a simple fan, can: on the sidelines.
Paul turns into a modern-day Travis Bickle for the film's final twenty or so minutes, and the tension is very, very heightened, leading to a climax that will shock and surprise in equal measure and an ending that is perfect for the character, but, ultimately, Paul Aufiero is an unlikeable protagonist from start to finish, more a caricature of petty obsession than a truly rich one (see: Plainview, Daniel). There are some great lines of dialogue and sight gags (a 50 Cent birthday cake, a bathroom argument with one participant mid-defecation), but overall it's a snarky film more in love with its statement than its story. The Internet message board parallels are pretty much highlighted, what with Patton Oswalt as the lead, and some reviewers will laud the film for just that, like it's hard to use real life to satirize the Internet, or vice-versa. It's not a bold statement when everybody and their dogs can do the same, folks. And it's not a classic anti-hero film when you wind up loathing its protagonist.
Siegel, who wrote 2008's superior The Wrestler, again uses sports**** as a way to convey a bigger theme of lonely obsession, but while Mickey Rourke's Randy "The Ram" Robinson was a schmuck, at least you hoped he'd pull out of his rut and recapture some of the magic of his glory days.
Paul Aufiero? Not so much.
* literature, film, sports, High Kick through the Roof
** Jack Daniel's is another matter. You should have seen me on Tuesday night. Boy, was that a crude display of character. I'd like to take this asterisk to apologize to those whom I offended/impregnated.
*** A douchebag Philidelphia sports fan, you say? Quelle Surprise!
**** Let's pretend wrestling is a sport. And while you're here, so is Cirque du Soliel.