Big Fan DVD: Review By Brian Gallagher

It's a tremendous accomplishment for both Patton Oswalt, who shines in ways we haven't seen him shine before, and filmmaker Robert Siegel in a daring and incredible directorial debut.
  • OVERALL
    4.5
    SUPERB
  • Feature
  • Picture
  • Sound
  • Extras
  • Replay Value
THE GOOD
A dark comedy classic with fantastic performances and a standout directorial debut from one of my new favorite writers, The Wrestler's Robert Siegel
THE BAD
The "outtakes" here are really quite lame, and some more special features wouldn't hurt.
THE FEATURE
Much like Mike Judge's new comedy Extract, Robert Siegel's directorial debut Big Fan is getting a rather perfect release date, even though they both fall on weekends most filmmakers wouldn't be happy about. Extract, which is essentially Judge's Office Space for blue collar America, opens on Labor Day weekend, which fits this film like a glove since blue collar America will be enjoying a long weekend, and Siegel's Big Fan comes out right as another American tradition begins: football season. While there have been films that have tackled the passions and obsessions of our nation's die-hard sports fans (See: Celtic Pride, The Fan), Big Fan finds a wonderful grey area between comedy and drama and poses the question: What if you got to meet your hero... and things went tragically wrong?

Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt) is, by most standards, a loser. He's a 35-year-old parking garage attendant who lives at home with his mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz) in Staten Island. Unlike his brother Jeff (Gino Cafarelli), a successful ambulance-chaser lawyer, Paul hasn't really found a way to conform to society, not wanting a traditional life and family. The only thing that makes Paul's world go around is the New York Giants football team and his obsession with them. He stays up late at night, much to the chagrin of his mother, regularly calling into a popular sports-talk radio show hosted by Sports Dogg (real-life sports radio DJ Scott Ferrall), passionately defending his Giants every night against the likes of Philadelphia Phil (Michael Rappaport) and utterly praising the efforts of his hero, Giants linebacker Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm). The only person that he connects with is his longtime friend Sal (Kevin Corrigan), a fellow die-hard Giants fan who is amazed by Paul's on-air rants, unaware that his diatribes which he claims to be just "winging it" are actually thoughtfully planned and written throughout Paul's day. Then one fateful day, while at a Staten Island gas station, Paul sees his hero, Quantrell Bishop, in the flesh. Mesmerized, they follow the star linebacker all the way to a high-end Manhattan strip club, where they sit - incredibly out of place - in awe of their idol. When they finally have the courage to approach Bishop, after a misunderstanding, things go terribly wrong and Bishop beats Aufiero savagely. When Paul wakes up three days later, the scandal is in full swing with Bishop suspended by the team pending a criminal investigation (strange how that phrase is so commonplace these days). To make matters worse, the Giants are losing games left and right without Bishop and Paul keeps claiming to not remember anything when questioned by the policeman on the case, Detective Velardi (Matt Servitto). Paul keeps shutting the world around him out, hoping everything will go back to normal, but, in fact things just get much, much worse.

We've all certainly enjoyed the comedic stylings of Patton Oswalt throughout the years, but we've never seen him take on such a dramatic role like Paul Aufiero, and he's absolutely fantastic. Yes, there is plenty of comedy here, both of the light and dark variety, but Oswalt truly shines as this man who's whole life revolves around a football team. He lives at home and it seems the only reason he has a job is so he can buy Giants merchandise. There is also a particularly brilliant scene that sets up game day for Paul and Sal. We see them make the drive (in his mother's car) to Giants Stadium, walking amongst the passionate tailgaters in their Giants jerseys, feeling at home amongst the denizens of Giants fandom... then cutting to Paul and Sal, alone in the Giants Stadium parking lot, watching the game on a small TV plugged into the car's cigarette lighter. Incredible. This all sets up Paul's quandary - whether or not to punish his hero for beating him - because he doesn't want to hurt his hero, but, by dragging this out, he's ultimately hurting the team, and writer-director Robert Siegel, who wrote my absolute favorite film of 2008, The Wrestler and makes his directorial debut here, sets up this tale marvelously and takes us all the way through to an incredible and highly-unconventional ending. While Paul's reaction - or lack thereof - to this unfortunate event is highly irregular, Siegel masterfully sets it up in a way where you can see why Aufiero is doing what he's doing, and makes this character surprisingly and incredibly relatable to fans and non-fans alike.

While Oswalt turns in a sensational performance here as Paul Aufiero, Kevin Corrigan is not to be slighted as his partner in obsession Sal. Seeing them both together on screen is wonderful because Siegel has created these characters as people who really don't know anything about the world around them... or outside of Giants Stadium anyway. Anytime we see Paul and Sal deal with other people, it's like Siegel has created them out of a time-lock where they are devoid of almost any social skills whatsoever that don't deal with football. Marcia Jean Kurtz and Gino Cafarelli do fine jobs as Paul's mother and brother, Matt Servitto is rather typical as Detective Velardi and, while we mainly just hear his voice until the end, Michael Rappaport is perfect as Paul's on-air nemesis, Philadelphia Phil.

Writer-director Robert Siegel has certainly made an intriguing transition into the world of cinema. In the mid-90s, Siegel joined the writing staff of an obscure Madison, WI publication called The Onion. Two years later he was the editor-in-chief and brought the publication to national prominence before leaving in 2003 to start a career in screenwriting. Oddly enough, director Darren Aronofsky met with Siegel to direct this script (then titled just Paul Aufiero), and then later asked him to write a movie about pro wrestling that became my absolute favorite film of 2008, The Wrestler. Just a year later, Siegel is making his directorial debut with Big Fan, and with it Siegel has proved he is certainly no one-hit wonder. While some scenes tend to drag a tad, which is odd for an 85-minute film, and I'm still confused with these weird spots that feature Hamm's Bishop that look like Under Armor ads, Siegel has crafted a stellar film for his directorial debut, bringing something uniquely special out of Patton Oswalt that we have never seen before and humanizing these crazy fans in ways no film has before.

Big Fan is basically what Taxi Driver would've been if Travis Bickle was as obsessed with football as he was with cleaning the sc*m off the streets. It's a tremendous accomplishment for both Patton Oswalt, who shines in ways we haven't seen him shine before, and filmmaker Robert Siegel in a daring and incredible directorial debut.
THE EXTRAS
We get a solid amount of extras here, a lot more than I expected from such a low-budget indie. Outtakes get us started and they're not really that funny, actually, with a super-long take of the woman in the commercial that Jeff makes and keeps flubbing her super-simple line, more of an extended scene/outtake thing with Paul's mom raving about Jeff's commercial and after this you kind of get the gist that these really aren't outtakes but just alternate scenes. The next one is just Oswalt walking through Philly traffic and it's pretty weird/unnecessary, unless they just wanted to give more of a sense that they actually filmed in Philly. There is another weird scene with Paul and Sal talking in prison and another pick-up shot with Paul and Philadelphia Phil in the bar, which is probably the only good one out of the whole bunch. At least they saved the best for last, but you should probably just watch this last one out of this 11-minute "outtakes" reel.

Next up is a Q&A with Robert Siegel and Patton Oswalt from Chicago's Music Box Theater, which is a after a Chicago screening of the film, which was moderated by Steve "Capone" Prokopy from Ain't It Cool News. There are some great gems from this whole thing as they dole out advice to an upcoming filmmaker, talk about Marcia Jean Kurtz and we get some great stuff about the limitations of his character, where Patton would come up with really smart and clever things that wouldn't work because his character is not even close to as smart as Oswalt really is. We also get some great stuff here about Oswalt's career being influenced by Roger Ebert and his own "reviewing" career as Neil C*mston on Ain't It Cool News and also about Robert Siegel's own upbringing and how it influenced his films. This whole thing runs just under a half hour long and it's quite a blast to watch.

Kevin Corrigan Recalls His Own "Big Fan" Experience with Robert De Niro is next and, well, it's pretty self-explanatory. He talks about how he met De Niro when he was 17 years old and he describes the scene that he learned later was fairly similar to a scene in The King of Comedy. It's quite an interesting story, actually, and it runs seven and a half minutes long and well worth watching.

Besides the Theatrical Trailer, the only other things we get here are a Downloadable Quantrell Bishop Poster (which is probably a DVD first for me, a downloadable poster) and a Siegel-Oswalt Interview on NPR's "Fresh Air With Terry Gross," both of which are DVD-ROM features that you can download onto your computer from this DVD.
THE VIDEO
The film was presented in the widescreen format, enhanced for 16x9 widescreen televisions.
THE AUDIO
The sound is handled through the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound format.
THE PACKAGE
Very simple but it works in its own way. The front cover features a shot of Oswalt outside of Giants Stadium with a title card in the middle and a weird, generic shot of a football game, but with all of the logos airbrushed out. It looks like it could be a Cardinals/Giants game from the look of it, but it also could be a college game for all we know, and there's a critic quote at the bottom. The back has a few more critic quotes plus a nice synopsis, a few more random shots from the film, a brief special features listing along with the billing block and tech specs.
THE FINAL WORD
Big Fan is a fantastic film that sadly didn't get seen as much as it should've, but it's well worth seeing for a fantastic dramatic performance from Patton Oswalt and a sensational directorial debut by Robert Siegel.

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Comments (1)

  1. The Soylent Green Monkey

    I absolutely loved this film, great review.

    5 years agoby @soylentgreen2Flag