Writer Robert Siegel turned heads last year with his acclaimed screenplay for "The Wrestler," in which Mickey Rourke made a triumphant comeback as the down-on-his-luck title character. With "Big Fan," Siegel has again created a closely observed, downbeat character study, this time with comedian Patton Oswalt starring in a breakout performance as an obsessive New York Giants fan.
Like "The Wrestler," "Big Fan" is about dreams, denial and the bitter wages of self-deception.
Thirty-six years old and still living with his mother in Staten Island, Paul Aufiero (Oswalt) occupies a world defined by the tiny booth where he works as a parking garage attendant, the bed where he makes late-night calls to a New York sports radio station and Giants Stadium, where Paul and his best friend, Sal (Kevin Corrigan), faithfully root for their home team from the parking lot.
When one night Paul and Sal happen to spy star Giants quarterback Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm) at large in Staten Island, they decide to follow him into Manhattan, where the athlete and his entourage retire for an evening of coke-fueled gentlemen's recreation.
To approach and kiss Quantrell's ring or keep a worshipful distance? "There aren't any rules," Sal insists, egging on Paul to introduce himself. But of course there are rules, and when Paul winds up violating that invisible boundary separating celebrities from their unwashed admirers, "Big Fan" takes its increasingly suspenseful turns for the darker.
If Siegel has a clear, keen eye for the habits and habitats of thwarted boy-men, his compassion in "Big Fan" is occasionally harder to find. Thankfully, Oswalt imbues Paul with enough gravitas -- even a bent kind of dignity -- to keep him from being completely pathetic. But Siegel's depiction of the film's supporting characters too often borders on caricature. By the movie's strained, overheated climax, it's clear that Siegel, in his directing debut, is less interested in his protagonist as a character capable of transformation than as a human petri dish of futility and pathology.
-- Ann Hornaday (September 11, 2009)
86 minutes Contains profanity and sexuality. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.