Film review: Big Fan (MFF 2009)

Big Fan
First Independent Pictures, Economy Pictures

STARRING Patton Oswalt, Kevin Corrigan, Michael Rapaport, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Matt Servitto, Serafina Fiore, Gino Cafarelli, Jonathan Hamm, Polly Humphreys, Scott Ferrall
WRITTEN BY Robert D. Siegel
PRODUCED BY Jean Kouremetis, Elan Bogarin
DIRECTED BY Robert D. Siegel

SHOT BY Michael Simmonds
EDITED BY Josh Trank
MUSIC BY Philip Watts
DISTRIBUTED BY First Independent Pictures

Screened at the Milwaukee Film Festival, 2009-10-01

Comedian Patton Oswalt plays Paul, a New York Giants obsessor who is 36, lives with his mother and has long passed the point of being pitied by those around him – perhaps for this reason we are called upon to pity him. Most of Paul’s energy is devoted to rhetorical diatribes he gives on a call-in sports radio show, and the rest of it is spent preparing and rehearsing those speeches in the parking lot attendant station where he curdles (works). An awkward chance of fate finds Paul and his one Giants-loving friend following superstar Giants QB into a Manhattan strip club, and said QB is found to be less than welcoming of his stalkers. He pounds Paul to a pulp. An extensive lawsuit ensues yet Paul will not inculpate his attacker since doing so would wound the Giants in their season. Paul is a man whose obsession overwhelms his own sense of self-preservation; Big Fan is a character study of an addict.

I don’t know if it’s possible to pity, empathize and laugh at somebody all in one gulp, which may explain why Big Fan doesn’t work. It looks a bit too arty yet also appears terminally cheap, most readily apparent in the half-assed audio mix (mortal sin of film students), and digital images which are “incidentally verité.” I feel much of the problem started with the script. At times bleakly serious, and somewhat maudlin, at other times forcing misplaced, superficial jokes. Exmaple: Paul threatens to unravel the lawsuit brought forth by his brother. “You’re gonna do it?” “Yeah!” “Then do it.” ‘Fine!” “Do it.” “I will!’ Next scene: Paul and friend are seen looking up the word lawsuit on Wikipedia. That might get a laugh in a rather zany comedy, but not when it is surrounded by slow, quiet, broody scenes and a wannabe-indifferent POV. We spend so much time empathizing with Paul that we become an addict’s enablers.

Something of a big deal has been made over Big Fan. I suppose I can understand the hype, but it must’ve been generated by only a few people. Such a film doesn’t engender excitement; perhaps curiosity. Patton Oswalt is talented enough… but within the film there isn’t a shred of true pathos in sight. Pity is not fun. For all its ambitions and sporadic silliness, Siegel proved himself to be guilty of the amateur sin: pretension. Not at a criminal level, but not an enjoyable one. The film’s way unsatisfying conclusion forces me to utilize that unfair adage: this should’ve been nothing more than a short film. Big Fan is only unsuccessful insofar as one chooses to take it seriously, which Siegel does seem to desire. I’ll say this for Big Fan: I had not expected to appreciate Darren Aronofsky so much.

written by David Ashley