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Big Fan (2009)

Vivendi Entertainment
DVD Released: 1/12/2010

All Ratings out of
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 1/22/2010

I'd never really paid much attention to sports talk radio, but in 2003 one of my favorite teams was making a run to the Super Bowl (Hint: It wasn't the Patriots). Wanting to learn more about what was happening with the team, I turned to "The Fan", and I've been listening ever since. I listen to the shows for scores and updates on local teams, and to do this, I must sit through the psychos and morons who call these programs. Thus, I had a good base of reference for Big Fan, a movie which explores the dark extremes of sports fandom.

Taking a dramatic turn, Patton Oswalt stars in Big Fan as Paul Aufiero, a devoted New York Giants fan. Pual is in his late 30s and still lives with his mother (Maria Jean Kurtz). Paul works nights as a parking attendant and passes the time composing rants which he calls in to the local sports talk show. Paul's favorite player is Giants linebacker Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm). One night, Paul and his best friend, Sal (Kevin Corrigan), spot Bishop and his posse out on the town. They follow the player to a nightclub and Paul finally musters the courage to approach his hero. What transpires is a nightmare, and Paul is left shaken. But, what follows will show how easily the line can be crossed from fan to fanatic.

Big Fan was written and directed by Robert Siegel, who also wrote The Wrestler, so apparently he's trying to corner the market on depressing sports movies. Like that Mickey Rourke film, Big Fan isn't really about sports. Football and the New York Giants only serve as the fuel which drives Paul. The movie is about Paul's life and how he's allowed himself to be consumed by his obsession with the Giants and Quantrell Bishop in particular. The movie doesn't pull any punches in portraying Paul's life as sad. Some would argue that the movie is objective, but I felt that it went out of its way to show how Paul didn't want to do anything to change his life situation. As long as he was able to call the "Sports Dog" and cheer for his Giants, he was happy. (The reveal of what Paul and Sal do on game day is particularly crushing.) However, the movie also doesn't give us any backstory on Paul. We never learn how long he's lived like this, or if he had dreams that didn't come true. This nitpicking aside, Patton Oswalt does a good job here and I'm not surprised, as he always struck me as the kind of comic whose humor comes from a sad place.

In essence, Big Fan is sort of a sports-themed version of Taxi Driver...but, a little less crazy. Paul starts the film as an amiable guy, but the encounter with Bishop changes him. Going in, I knew a little bit about the film, but I wasn't aware of how Paul dealt with the situation, and once we learn what Paul is going to do following his brush with fame, the movie is shocking...sort of. Paul's actions are disturbing, but they aren't really surprising. I did like the fact that everyone around him questions what Paul is doing. This is the equivalent of the audience yelling at the screen and it lets us know that Siegel is placing the film in the "real world".

While the overall premise is interesting and the characters well-drawn, Big Fan suffers from slack pacing. It takes too long to get to the run-in with Bishop and following this, the movie really slows down. The running time of the movie is 87 minutes, but I felt like it was much longer than that. The final reel tries to spice things up somewhat, but it also feels like it's trying too hard to bring a Travis Bickle feel to the film and too many scenes are played out in real time during the third act. Some would argue that the pacing of the film matches its persona of being a character study, but I don't buy that. (I also had a huge problem with the fact that we aren't privy to what medical problems Paul may have.) To me, Big Fan felt like a film which knew that it had a very good and very topical idea and then had no clue what to do with it. Having said that, this is also a movie which is sure to spark debate amongst those who see it. I just wish that the film had let us inside Paul's head for just a moment, no matter how scary that would have been.

Big Fan knows how to stir up a rivalry on DVD courtesy of Vivendi Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing no defects from the source material. Siegel has chosen to shoot Big Fan in an almost verite style, so the image is somewhat grainy and dark at times, but not to the extent that it detracts from the movie. The colors are fairly good, but somewhat washed out at times (again, this could be intentional, as Paul doesn't live in a very colorful world). The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are OK, and most noticeable during crowd scenes. The same goes for the surround effects, which do stand out during the nightclub scene. We also get some mild bass here. Overall, this is a quiet movie, so the audio is satisfactory.

The Big Fan DVD contains a selection of extras. "Exclusive Outtakes" (11 minutes) is simply a long reel of bloopers and blown takes. "Q&A with Siegel and Patton" (30 minutes) was recorded at a screening at the Music Box Theater in Chicago. The writer/director and actor take questions from the moderator and the audience. There are some funny moments here. "Kevin Corrigan Recalls" (7 minutes) has the actor speaking at a screening in Boston where he describes being 17 years old and meeting Robert DeNiro and how this relates to Big Fan. The disc contains the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film. As an added bonus, an interview from NPR's "Fresh Air" with Siegel and Oswalt can be accessed with DVD-Rom.

Review Copyright 2010 by Mike Long