(This is a column where I review movies that I have never seen, but SHOULD have. Being a film Geek, I have seen a ton of films. But life is also very short, and for one reason or another, there are quite a few flicks that I have never got to. Sure, it probably doesn’t matter if I ever see a movie like PARENTAL GUIDANCE, but a movie like LAWRENCE OF ARABIA…. well, I should have seen that already. I’m a film geek for God’s sake! I have now decided that I should get on that before I get too old. I have compiled a list of films that I WANT or NEED to watch, and am going to start watching them when I have spare time. So I will randomly be posting reviews of movies that I have always wanted or needed to see. Enjoy!)
I don’t know too much about Patton Oswalt’s comedy stuff. I don’t really follow stand-up. I saw him in YOUNG ADULT, but for me he will always be Delmer Darion, the scuba diver who got stuck in a tree in Paul Thomas Anderson’s masterpiece, MAGNOLIA. But I was a fan of THE WRESTLER. You see, BIG FAN is written & directed by the screenwriter of that film. I missed this upon release, but now I got a chance to see it.
Oswalt plays Paul Aufiero, a 36 year old New York Giants fanatic who still lives with his mom. He works as a parking ramp attendant, where he thinks about what he is going to say when he calls in on his favorite radio show, Sports Talk. He rants and raves about the latest happenings with the Giants. He also gets in arguments with another guy who calls in, Philadelphia Phil (Michael Rappaport). And on game days, he goes to the Giants stadium with his best friend Sal (Kevin Corrgian). And since they don’t have money to buy tickets to attend the actual game, they watch it on a television outside of the stadium. One day, Paul and Sal spot the Giants’ number one player Quantrell Bishop in Statton island, and decide to follow him. They end up in a strip club in Manhattan where they finally approach him. Paul lets it slip out that they’ve been following him, which infuriates Bishop, who proceeds to beat the shit out of Paul. Paul is nearly beaten to death, but he doesn’t want to press charges cause it will end up with Bishop spending jail time, which would affect the Giants’ winning streak. But as the film goes on, Paul gets slowly stressed out dealing with his family and friends who want him to sue the football player. Paul also believes he’s the reason that the Giants are now losing.
The movie was sort of advertised as a quirky, low-key black comedy. I would go even further and say that it’s not really a comedy at all. This is a pretty dark character study along the lines of Scorsese’s THE KING OF COMEDY. Paul is a pathetic character, but one that you could sympathize with. All of his sibling are happily married and are doing something with their lives. He lives with his mom. But, he’s mostly content with it. He’s at a comfortable place and he doesn’t want anything to change. I can identify with that. The movie is also hard to watch at times. But in a good way. There’s some pretty uncomfortable moments where you know things are going to turn out bad, and the tension waiting for the bad things to happen are often unbearable. That’s a great credit to everyone involved.
I like how the movie starts off enjoyable, but once Paul meets Bishop, it slowly turns dark. And then just keeps going slightly darker and darker as the film progresses. You know things are going to turn out bad, but just how bad? You’re not really sure, and that’s why it’s hard NOT to watch. There’s some great moments in this movie. My favorites were when Paul suffers a breakdown while calling in to Sports Talk, and his mom picks up the phone right in the middle of the show and begins to scold him. Really intense scene. And the climax is like watching a beautiful train wreck. You just can’t look away.
Patton Oswalt gives a fantastic performance as the pathetic Paul. He gives the character all the means to be likable, and when the movie goes into dark territory, Oswalt is more than up to the challenge. This isn’t some goofy, quirky performance by some offbeat comedian, this is a fully realized performance. Kevin Corrigan has played the loser friend several times now, and seems to have it down to a science. Michael Rappaport has a brief role as Phil and he’s amusing. But this is Patton’s show all the way.
Writer/Director Robert Siegel has crafted a hauntingly effective character study. It’s a great script. But if the film has a weak spot, it would be its direction, which was disappointingly amateurish. The script is so precise that one wishes that the direction were the same. Visually, it had a look of an independent production of the early 90’s. If that was the goal, then mission accomplished. Siegel’s work here isn’t terrible. It’s not even bad. But if this had more of a sturdy hand, this could have been a masterpiece.
Despite the rough-around-the-edges direction, this was a compelling character study, anchored by an astonishing performance by Patton Oswalt. If you like dark character studies or are a fan of Oswalt, then you should probably check this out! ★★★ (out of ★★★★)
Rated R for language and some sexuality. (the sexuality was more like PG13 stuff though)
– Running time: 1hr 28min.
(BIG FAN is available to rent on DVD from Netflix)