Paul is in his mid-thirties, single, and still living at home with his mother. He works as a parking lot attendant in New York, and is content to sit in his booth at night writing down passionate, articulate rants, so that when he goes home he can call a local radio sports show and prove his fanaticism for the Giants, his favorite football team.
Paul is played by Patton Oswalt, one of the funniest stand-up comedians alive, and what he does in this film is really quite remarkable. He creates a fully convincing and pathetic loser, and is unafraid to reveal all the character’s lowest points. If this were an Adam Sandler comedy we’d probably have scenes showing us how misunderstood and sweet Paul is, so we can understand that he’s the one we’re meant to root for, but Oswalt’s Paul isn’t so cleancut. He treats his family like crap and has terrible mood swings; he only seems truly happy when he’s in his element: either witnessing a Giants win or ranting to strangers on the radio. The fact that he must write his speeches down beforehand, and preps himself for hours in advance of calling, says everything.
Paul gets in trouble when he spots a Giants quarterback at a gas station in a shady neighborhood and follows him into a NYC nightclub. After an awkward introduction, Paul makes the mistake of mentioning that he’s been following the sports star and his entourage for the past few hours, and the drunken athlete reacts by beating him senseless. Three days later Paul is hospitalized and the police want his statement — but he suddenly “can’t remember” anything that happened, desperately hoping the Giants won’t be forced to suspend their star athlete. But that’s just the beginning of his problems.
Big Fan is the directorial debut of Robert D. Siegel, who wrote last year’s sports-themed The Wrestler. Both movies concern the plights of apparent losers, the biggest difference being Mickey Rourke’s ‘Ram’ actually had a life at one point, whereas Paul’s existence is experienced vicariously. Everyone around him tries to offer a better life, whether it’s jobs or moving into his own place, but he firmly rejects them. In Paul’s eyes, this is his life. He is perfectly content to be discontent, and the movie’s lack of transformation for its character will undoubtedly alienate some viewers.
And, put bluntly, Big Fan is not as strong or poignant as The Wrestler. Siegel is not as capable a director as Darren Aronofsky, and the story — despite clocking in at under an hour and a half — does tend to meander a few times. But it is endearingly bleak, honest and real, and kept afloat by Oswalt’s fascinating performance, which is hard to shake off even after the credits are over.