July 18, 2010
Comedy / Crime / Drama / Sport
Robert D. Siegel [wrote THE WRESTLER]
Paul Aufiero = Patton Oswalt
Oswalt is perfectly cast as a die-hard New York Football Giants fan who spends his working hours in a small box in a parking garage listening to sports radio and writing the script for one of his nightly calls. He is one of those movie-level losers, like MARTY, who lives at home with his mother, has filthy friends, and posters of his sports heroes on his walls. He also sleeps in sheets that I myself had back when I was twelve. The ones with all the NFL teams on them.
His sister is married to a businessman and his brother is a personal injury lawyer as seen on TV. They all wonder what he’s doing with his life. But Paul seems to be content simply following the Giants, talking about the Giants, calling in to sports shows as a representative of the Giants, and wearing only clothes that come in Giants colors. On homegame Sundays, he and his buddy, Sal, played by indie-everywhere Kevin Corrigan, put on jerseys and facepaint and drive from their homes on Staten Island, down 95 to the Meadowlands, where they cheer with the other fans, walk around throwing the football, but strangely, don’t seem to eat or drink anything. Just when I was wondering how a guy who works in a parking garage could pay the astronomical NFL ticket prices, we cut to a shot of the two men, in the parking lot in camping chairs, watching a TV which is hot-wired onto their car battery while the real game goes on 100 yards away. This is the kind of humor the film has to offer. It’s very dark, it’s borderline mentally ill, and just this side of unbelievable.
The scripts that Paul writes for his call-ins (which he claims he says off the cuff) are full of grammar and spelling errors. And he works on them for hours. His calls end up lasting a minute or two and typically end with Scott Farrell saying “always great to hear from Paul in Staten Island.” Unfortunately, his mother often pounds on the wall imploring him to keep it down.
Paul’s single greatest hero (and here’s where we as viewers have to substitute our own–I’ll use Bono) is a killer linebacker named Quantrell Bishop. He has posters of the guy and he always wears his number 54 Bishop jersey to the parking lot. One day, the two losers are out for pizza when they spy Bishop and his posse getting gas for his Escalade. “What are they doing in Staten Island?” they ask each other before giving chase in a run-down Corolla. They stop off at a row house for something that seems vaguely criminal and then head into Manhattan. The film really gets going when we see the two men, who are complete products of their Staten Island surroundings, get nervously excited as they cross the bridge into the bustle and parking difficulties of Manhattan. Never mind the high prices. They follow Bishop into a strip club, where they are shocked to drop $29 within minutes of entering and they grab two seats facing the VIP lounge and the Bishop entourage.
In real life, this must happen all the time. I once bumped into (literally–it was crowded) Derek Jeter and his entourage at the Palms in Las Vegas (which makes me sound much cooler than I actually am.) Everyone who’s seen a celebrity in public knows that they just seem to shine brighter than those around them. I did get to glance into the famous blue eyes of Jeter, but what I also noticed was just how the energy of him being there, smiling, added a kind of buzz to the surroundings. People see celebrities in airports and hotels and concerts and they do appear to be different than we mere mortals.
But here’s the question the film asks: what if your hero turned out to be not only rude, but to beat the shit out of you until you went into a coma? I have been in the presence of celebrity probably 50 times. The soundboard at U2 shows, their hotels, in airports, at film festivals. And I’m always asked why I didn’t get an autograph. My answer is that I never want to be disappointed. And how a signature and a two-second human interaction means that I’ve “met” Bono or Stewart Copeland or Colin Farrell, I’ll never know. Gene Siskel used to say, when asked about interviewing actors and then giving them bad film reviews, something like, they’ll never be your friends–you won’t be going out for coffee with them. Plus I know they all have as many problems and they are as assholish and as messed up as the rest of us.
I say all this because in the film, the pair try to send a drink over to Bishop, who refuses a screwdriver (the only mixed drink they’ve ever heard of), so they decide to walk over anyway. They are at first ignored, then ridiculed (“look Bishop, you do got fans, ha ha ha ha.) This scene is unbearable to take. We know that Paul the schlub meeting Bishop the multi-millionaire cannot go well. But the scene takes a terrible turn when it’s discovered how long the two had been following him and Paul is punched and kicked into unconsciousness.
This alone makes a good movie, but what makes it even a bit better, and where the connections to my choice of Bono no longer work, is that the more trouble Bishop gets into, the less successful the New York Giants are on the football field. If I were to go up to Bono and say, please sign my copy of OCTOBER, and he beats me unconscious, they need to postpone some concerts. After Bishop stomps Paul, he is suspended and the Giants playoff hopes dim, the longer the investigation goes on. This part I loved. Paul is such a Big Fan, that he may decide to put his own health and a well-deserved payday aside so that he can continue to follow his beloved Giants (on TV at least) as they make a run for the Superbowl. If his name gets out, will his fellow fans hate him? Was he too much of a pest and somehow had the beating coming?
Oswalt is absolutely perfect. I’ve always known there was an actor hiding inside his schlubby comedian body. (He does a bit on a 1980s video from Night Ranger that is making me laugh right now as I remember it.) He almost dies, yet he wants his Giants to win. He has made the success of the Giants his reason for living, and without them, his family would be even more right about him. No girls, no adequate job, no life. And if it turns out that his lawsuit is the reason for the Giants demise, could he live with himself?
Added to the picture is another caller to the sports program, a guy named Philadelphia Phil, who revels in any Giants defeat and who is the arch-enemy (radio-version) of Paul from Staten Island.
Sidenote: I was at a San Francisco Giants game this year, and there was a presentation about cancer research, I think, and the spokesman was Tommy Lasorda. Now, Tommy Lasorda may be the single most hated person in San Francisco Giants history. Wanna get beat up? Wear Dodger Blue to Pac Bell Park. Or Chiefs Red to the Black Hole in Oakland. Maize and Blue in Columbus? You get the idea. However, Lasorda was years removed from being a Dodger. He was raising money for medical research. And you should have heard the boos. Oh my. Whenever the jumbotron showed him, the profanities began (from the normally white-wine sipping Giants fans). Sidenote over.
I bring it up because the hatred between the Giants and Eagles was shown pretty perfectly in BIG FAN. The two fans of different teams at first simply spar on the radio show, but over time, they get more angry and mean and how long can Paul keep the truth of his beating from the AM radio audience.
The specificity of Staten Island and the portrayal of a unique type of obsessive, the American football fan, make BIG FAN a fabulous, though not exactly fun, film.
What if your hero (Steve Jobs, Obama, Thom Yorke, Lebron) ignored you–made fun of you–almost killed you?
BIG FANTags: 7.0, Comedy, Crime, Drama, Robert D. Siegel, Sport