One of my customers recommended “Big Fan” to me after hearing me talk about my favorite football team, the Eagles.
“It’s got Patton Oswalt in it.”
“So, it’s funny, then?”
“Not really. It’s more of a dark comedy than a truly funny movie.”
A few weeks ago, Eric and I happened to see it listed as one of the “instant-play” movies on Netflix, and we watched it.
Written and directed by Robert D. Siegel ("The Wrestler"), the film centers on Paul Aufiero (played by Patton Oswalt), a parking garage attendant in Staten Island, New York. Paul is in his thirties and still lives with his mother in his childhood room. Though being a parking attendant is how Paul makes his living, what he lives for is the New York Giants. He and his best friend Sal never miss a game, and even attend home games, where they watch the game on a jerry rigged television in the parking lot - stadium tickets being beyond their monetary reach. Paul’s clothing is mostly Giants gear, and his room is full of Giants memorabilia, including a giant poster of his favorite wide receiver: Quantrell Bishop.
Paul is also an avid listener of sports talk radio, particularly “Sports Dogg,” the nighttime radio show. During his evening shifts in the parking garage, Paul listens to the show and drafts his comments in a notebook. When he arrives home at the end of the night, Paul calls into the show and becomes “Paul from Staten Island,” reading a seemingly improvised monologue about the Giants team and their successes. Paul from Staten Island directs most of his taunts towards the Philadelphia Eagles and one of their fans, “Philadelphia Phil” (played by Michael Rapaport), who also calls into “Sports Dogg” each night.
In the early part of the film, Paul is content with his life – watching Giants games, working at the parking garage, and trading insults with Philadelphia Phil. Though his mother and siblings pressure him to find a “real job,” a wife, and move to a home of his own, Paul stubbornly insists that he is happy. Paul’s life takes a turn, however, on the night he and Sal see Quantrell Bishop filling up at a Staten Island gas station. The two decide to follow Quantrell, and eventually end up sitting across from his VIP lounge at a Manhattan strip club. Paul screws up the courage to approach his idol and tell Quantrell how much of a fan he is. The conversation between the two goes well until Quantrell hears that Paul has been following him for most of the night. Quantrell becomes angry, then violent. Days later, Paul wakes up to find he is in the hospital, having been viciously beaten by his favorite player.
The rest of the film centers on the fallout from this incident. Paul has to deal with the events he has set in motion, involving, not only himself and Quantrell, but an assault investigation and the Giants’ season as a whole – all of which are now constantly talked about on the “Sports Dogg.”
What I loved about “Big Fan” was how genuine it was in all of its aspects. I felt that those involved in the creation and filming of the movie really explored the culture, not just of sports teams, which is easy, but of the people who follow them. For many people like Paul, sports and the teams they follow are the best part of their lives. I also appreciated how accurately sports radio was portrayed. Listening to “Sports Dogg” reminded me of the hosts and callers on ESPN 1000 – the Chicago radio station I like to listen to. Though the film’s humor is very black, I appreciated that the writer and director did not take the easy path and aim all of the jokes at the character of Paul. Though Paul is what many people would call a loser and his life seems bleak, he is at least involved in a passionate community of sports fans. Sports radio is not a mainstream element of the culture, but Paul seems to have found a fulfilling life, nonetheless. In fact, the lives of Paul’s siblings and their spouses seem even bleaker, despite being more conventional.
“Big Fan” is not an uplifting or inspirational film. But it is accurate, wry, and well worth a look. I bet it will remind you of more than a few sports fans you know.