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By Philip Martin

This article was published October 16, 2009 at 3:20 a.m.


Paul (Patton Oswalt) and Sal (Kevin Corrigan) celebrate their beloved New York Giants in the dark dramatic comedy Big Fan.

— Everybody who listens to Drive-time Sports (or, to comply with the Fairness Doctrine, The Sports Animals) ought to see Robert D. Siegel’s Big Fan, a dark, dry comedy about a New York Giants “superfan” who is beaten into a coma by the linebacker he worships.

Siegel, the one-time editor of the satirical Web site The Onion who wrote the screenplay for The Wrestler, directs his taut screenplay in this depressive character study, which examines the sad case of 36-year-old Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt), parking lot attendant by day, “Paul from Staten Island,” avenging talk radio blowhard by night.

While Paul is a celebrity in the tightly circumscribed circle of public venters who call into the late-night show presided over by nicotine rasper Sports Dogg (voiced by real life sports shock-jock Scott Ferrall), he is a great disappointment to his mother, with whom he still lives and who is frequently awakened by his late-night tirades.

Paul is such a loser that whenever the Giants are playing at home he makes the trek to the stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., to sit in the parking lot and watch the game on TV, with his equally pathetic pal Sal (Kevin Corrigan, finding his metier).

A chance sighting leads Paul and Sal to follow Giants all-pro linebacker Quantrell Bishop (former arena football player Jonathan Hamm) and his entourage to a Manhattan nightclub, where Paul attempts to introduce himself. But he comes off a bit creepy, leading to a “misunderstanding” that lands him in the hospital and sees Bishop suspended indefinitely, pending the outcome of an investigation.

Though Paul’s brother Jeff (Gino Cafarelli), a personal injury lawyer, sees an opportunity for a multimillion-dollar lawsuit, Paul is more interested in seeing Bishop reinstated for the Giants playoff drive than cashing in. He tells the police detective (Matt Servitto) looking into the case he’s suffering from amnesia.

The final act of the film turns even darker, as Paul travels behind enemy lines to confront his sports talk nemesis, an insufferable Eagles fanatic with the handle “Philadelphia Phil” (Michael Rapaport).

While Siegel is from the Kevin Smith school of minimalistic directing, cinematographer Michael Simmonds finds a way to stamp a blue look into the urban grayness, using the primary colors of the National Football League in sort of the same way as Spielberg used the color red in Schindler’s List - to allow us to follow the concatenation of heartbreak.

In the end, the film blinks in the third act, and Siegel seems more interested in exhibiting Paul as a not-so-rare species of delusional male thwartedness than granting him an interior life, but it’s still a powerful and interesting bit of sociology. If it’s a more modest undertaking than The Wrestler, it’s also less sentimental, and it provides us with evidence of Siegel’s growth as a writer.

MovieStyle, Pages 35 on 10/16/2009

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