"I can't tell you how sick I am," Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt) first says at the beginning of the new dark drama, Big Fan. Though he is doing nothing more than scribing his hatred for the Philadelphia Eagles in this opening scene, he becomes stuck on this sentence, repeating this one phrase. "I can't tell you how sick I am." "I can't tell you how sick I am." These words encapsulate Paul's being, perfectly setting the film's tone and preparing the viewer for an in-depth exploration into this twisted individual.
Paul loves the New York Giants. He attends every home game, tailgating and fraternizing with the Giants community, but can't afford the tickets, so he sits in the parking lot and watches the games on television, pretending he is actually in there with the crowd. His life revolves around the team and he periodically calls into a radio show to praise them. One night, he sees his favorite player, Quantrell Bishop, at a gas station and follows him to a strip club. When he approaches Bishop and reveals that he has been tailing him all night, Bishop beats him to a bloody pulp, hospitalizing him. The controversy surrounding the attack causes Bishop to be suspended from playing, but Paul, being the big fan that he is, refuses to press charges or testify against Bishop because he fears his arrest will put the season on the line.
Big Fan is a dark character study, brilliant at times, haunting at others, but always entertaining. What some movies of a similar style do is chicken out at the end and twist a happy ending out of an overall grim picture (look no further than Wristcutters for proof), but not this one. It follows through with its gloom until the bitter end with a climax that is ingenious and unpredictable, never outstretching its credulity, but walking that fine line exquisitely, with Paul carrying out a final act that seems perfectly realistic of his character.
Paul works at a parking garage, confined in a small box, desolate and alone, which is parallel to his mental state. He is trapped in his own head, living a life that doesn't exist and pretending to be somebody he imagines, not the person he is. He even has homosexual tendencies that he can't seem to properly define.
After his late night calls to the radio show, he becomes instantly aroused upon hanging up the phone and begins to pleasure himself. Later, when Bishop becomes ineligible to play, his arousal weakens. Without the thought of Bishop trounching his opponents, he becomes impotent and unable to masturbate. Earlier at the strip club, a stripper approaches him. Although he humors her with monosyllabic banter, he barely even looks at her, keeping his eyes focused on the sports star.
After he is assaulted and Bishop is forbidden to play, Paul loses sleep, not because he is traumatized from the attack, but because his ineligibility is causing the Giants to lose games. Like a wife beaten by her abusive husband, he believes he is at fault. With his team falling apart and his mental state weakening, he slips on Bishop's jersey, cuddles up on his bed and cries. Paul loves Bishop and finds no fault in what he has done.
Big Fan is poignant, immensely entertaining and extremely well done. Though no element outshines another, with each facet of its design working as just another cog in a well oiled machine, the film would mean nothing without a good lead and Patton Oswalt brings the goods. Not a follower of any sport in real life, Oswalt slips into Paul's shoes comfortably, ably exploring the emotional distraught of the character and mental feebleness that is keeping him confined in his own fictional world. His performance is extraordinary and I can't wait to see him in his next dramatic role.
Paul is a scary guy, an unforgettable enigma who is not easily definable to the average viewer because he can't even define himself. He is a 30-something year old man working at a dead end job who still lives with his mother and has a homoerotic fixation to a star football player. By taking such a common persona, a sports fan, and turning him into a disturbed, neurotic individual, Big Fan effectively explores the inner turmoil of somebody who lives vicariously through others in order to shield himself with a false comfort. It is in its unflinching desire to show the true face behind all of the red and blue paint that Big Fan succeeds.
Big Fan receives 4.5/5