In Theaters: Big Fan

Movieline Score:

Patton Oswalt is on the record as saying that you shouldn't expect laughs when you come to see Big Fan, and you won't hear me convincing you otherwise. The veteran comic appears here Paul Aufiero, perhaps the most forlorn sports enthusiast in the history of movies, single-handedly devastating his beloved New York Giants' season with one episode of questionable judgment. It's grounds for farce in the hands of most other filmmakers -- but not those of Robert Siegel, who mined similar, single-minded downer territory in his screenplay for The Wrestler. There, we witnessed the dark side of athleticism. Here, in Siegel's directorial debut, he and Oswalt explore the dark side of fandom. Alas, only one of them has the chops to pull it off.

Paul is a 35-year-old parking-garage attendant still living in his childhood bedroom in his mother's home on Staten Island. He spends his shifts devising fierce broadsides to deliver on a sports-talk radio show, most of which are interrupted by his wall-pounding Mom and his own stammering declamations against fans of the Giants' archenemies, the Philadelphia Eagles. In his off-time in between, Paul bums around with his best friend Sal (an equally stunted Kevin Corrigan), with whom Paul has the fortune -- or misfortune, it turns out -- of running into Giants superstar Quantrell Bishop on a drive one day.

Their ensuing introduction in a Manhattan nightclub goes a million ways of wrong -- squirmingly, wrenchingly so, all darting eyes and halting words from Oswalt, who naturally says the wrong thing and comes to the next morning in the hospital. Whipped by his family to pursue justice, hunted by the press, and soon called out on the show where his anonymity may have been his greatest life asset, Paul loses the only identity he ever really sought: that of a Giants fan.

And it's brutal stuff. Oswalt plays it like a death, helplessly watching the spotlight torch his love no matter how far he withdraws into the shadows. Like his team, Paul isn't easy to root for after the incident, and that collapse is heartbreaking. If only the contrast looked better. Darren Aronofsky may not have conceived Siegel's compassionate insights into obsession and failure that anchored The Wrestler, but he had the chops required to communicate them. Siegel could have used a similar technician here, instead turning even gifted cinematographer Michael Simmonds's camera eye into a sort of point-and-shoot slave to exposition.

Oswalt gets the best of the deal, occupying Siegel's overused close-ups with the tightly wound grins, grimaces and horror that take on wild new context when stripped from his comedic persona. None surpass the humiliation of waking up in the hospital, physically and emotionally beaten, writhing in denial and determined to go on as though nothing happened. It's a metaphor for Big Fan in general: even as you can't shake it, you really can't help but wish it had gone so much better.