Big Fan (2009)
Dir: Robert D. Siegel
Stars: Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrigan, Marcia Jean Kurtz and Michael Rapaport
My love for the Green Bay Packers is sometimes displayed in ways that I’m not necessarily proud of. There are videos that exist of me hopping up from my chair, ranting and raving at the teley in response to a play, pacing, pulling my hair… again, I’m not proud of these displays, but my adoration for the Packers sometimes overwhelms me. And I’m sure there are those amongst you who can relate, right? Anyhow, to quote one of the ladies that attended the 2011 Super Bowl party at my pal’s house, she said right after the game, “It’s good to have you back. We didn’t like scary Burke who showed up in the third quarter.” Yes, well sweetheart, “Scary Burke” as you refer to him wouldn’t have had to show up at all if the Packers had played some bloody defense in the third! But never mind… the Packers won the Super Bowl (again), didn’t they?
How is this discussion at all relevant to the film, Big Fan? Well, if any of you are sports fans as well as movie fans, I think you’ll find this picture particularly – and almost uncomfortably – close to home. It concerns the story of Paul Aufiero, played masterfully by Patton Oswalt. You will hopefully recognize Mr. Oswalt: if nothing else, you’ll recognize his voice from Disney’s Ratatouille. Regardless, Paul is a New York Giants super-fan. He wears their jerseys – specific ones for specific days. He is known as Paul from Staten Island whenever he calls into a sports radio show, which seems to be several times a week: put it this way, the DJ knows his name. He goes to the Giants games with his best pal, Sal (the always excellent character actor, Kevin Corrigan) – but they don’t actually go in the game. I mean, who can afford it? Particularly on a parking lot attendant’s salary, which is how Paul spends his days. No, they tailgate, then wire a small screen TV to the car battery and watch the game in the parking lot of the stadium.
The point is that Paul’s love for the Giants consumes his life. He ignores his family’s hopes for him to find a better job, to get into a meaningful relationship with a (gasp) woman, and other things that quote “normal people” do. So, it should come as no surprise that when Paul and Sal spot one of the Giants’ star players, Quantrell Bishop, in their neighborhood, they follow him all the way to a club in Manhattan and send him a drink. The story heads smoothly into Act 2 when Quantrell misinterprets the gesture and beats the living shit out of Paul. When Paul awakens from his surgery in the hospital, his first question is, “What day is it?” His second question is, “How’d we do?” referring to the Giants game on Sunday that he missed.
So, the theme from Big Fan is the level on which some fans live, and exploring the effect a “super fan” can have on himself and his family. To me, that’s a great discussion. ESPN and the rest of the sports media world WANTS guys like Paul, they need him, right? But, the film does a great job of establishing that a super fan’s lifestyle may not be the healthiest. That said, the film portrays this in a world in which we live – I’m talking about the existence and presence of the NFL in the film. Think about it for a minute – you’ve all seen other sports themed films with made up professional league names. What was that team that Pacino’s character was coaching for in Any Given Sunday? You know what, I can’t remember it either! And I’m not going to look it up because it doesn’t matter: what matters is, it WASN’T the Dolphins… and therefore, it takes much more to invest me in the story. With Big Fan, I could immediately identify and almost sympathize with Paul (see paragraph one of this very entry). Why? Because he’s committed to the Giants, that team that booted my Packers out of the playoffs this past January. So, I fetl like I kind of knew the guy, if you see what I mean… Anyhow, the decision on the part of the film makers to use the “real” NFL really worked for me: the film grossed less than $250,000 at the box office after a very limited release. That said, perhaps it flew under the radar of the license-savvy NFL? I don’t know…