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Grid-Iron Obsession Clotheslines Hapless Fan

MOVIE REVIEW
Big Fan (2009)

Bigfan_filmstill3
First Independent Pictures

Paul Auferio (Patton Oswalt), the eponymous “Big Fan” of “The Wrestler” screenwriter and former editor-in-chief of the Onion Robert Siegel’s directorial debut, more than earns the title. He eats, sleeps, breathes and bleeds the New York Giants, loving the team down to the core of his being. All other concerns, such as interpersonal relationships and a job, fall to the wayside. His life is all Big Blue, all the time.

The scariest thing about Paul is just how realistic he seems; how utterly probable it is that there could be someone so single-mindedly obsessed with a sports team that it consumes their existence. Resisting any urge to condescend or judge, Mr. Siegel (who also wrote the screenplay) plops the character in a glum, depressed Staten Island milieu of strip malls, scuzzy bars and gray days and simply lets his story unfold. When a shocking accident — not to be revealed here — causes Paul to directly impact the team’s season, he’s faced with the utmost crisis of conscience.

This sounds like the material for a broad satirical comedy, perhaps a smarter and more informed version of the 1990s Daniel Stern-Dan Aykroyd clunker “Celtic Pride.” But Mr. Siegel, despite his comic pedigree, is fast establishing himself as a premiere chronicler of a certain sad sector of working-class life. His film owes more to the sort of in-depth, sincere character studies that were once commonplace in Hollywood but now have to be made outside a studio system terrified of anything that can’t be boiled down to a formula. Rather than superficially revealing the dark side of superfandom, “Big Fan” develops a concentrated depiction of the environment that might produce someone like Paul, for whom the opportunity to regularly call into his favorite talk show and proclaim his love for his team serves as the only way for him to connect to something bigger than himself.

Bolstered by a fearless performance by its lead, heretofore best known as a stand-up comedian and the voice of Remy in “Ratatouille,” the movie presents a character consumed by one passion and watches as the orderly systems that define his life fall apart. Mr. Oswalt strips the character bare, pursuing with full-bodied focus the sole object of his affections. The physicality of the performance — with barely disguised self-disgust revealed in a sullen sideways glance and Paul’s dejected posture — surprises and makes the climactic burst of anger resonate powerfully. Without relying on hyperbolic situations or overwrought melodrama, with a screenplay that finds the compelling content in life’s mundane moments, Messrs. Siegel and Oswalt have produced a movie that’s both a fascinating character study and a deeply felt blow to the gut.

BIG FAN

Opens on Aug. 28 in New York and on Sept. 11 in Los Angeles.

Written and directed by Robert Siegel; director of photography, Michael Simmonds; edited by Joshua Trank; music by Philip Watts; production designer, Sharoz Makarechi; produced by Jean Kouremetis and Elan Bogarin; released by First Independent Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Patton Oswalt (Paul Aufiero), Kevin Corrigan (Sal), Michael Rapaport (Philadelphia Phil), Marcia Jean Kurtz (Theresa Aufiero), Matt Servitto (Detective Velardi), Gino Cafarelli (Jeff Aufiero), Serafina Fiore (Gina Aufiero), Polly Humphreys (Christine), Jonathan Hamm (Quantrell Bishop) and Scott Ferrall (Sports Dogg).

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