For those that don’t know, I’m the Producer of the podcast EaglesFanCast – Views on the Philadelphia Eagles. I started it two years ago as a way to get my geek on in a niche demographic and explore the world of New Media from the inside. I had already been consuming podcasts for more than a year, and the whole new media world intrigued me a lot. I worked with my friend Eric, who I have Eagles Season Tickets with, to build the concept and site ideas, then recruited my friend Todd to be a third co-host. Todd and I had season tickets together back in the Veterans Stadium days, and he has since relocated to Los Angeles where he started his career and family. We do the show from an Eagles Fan’s perspective with no script or agenda, and definitely with no professional analysis. Each week during the season we talk about the team’s ups and downs, as it would be talked about by fans in any pub, with plenty of fan emotion thrown in.
A few weeks ago, I was contacted about the upcoming movie, Big Fan, by those behind the marketing. They wanted to know if we were interested in a screening of the film, as well as an interview with Writer / Director Robert Siegel. Mr. Siegel is the acclaimed writer behind 2008’s The Wrestler. Of course I responded positively, I’m not a fool, and within a couple weeks I received a very nondescript DVD in the mail.
With actor / comedian Patton Oswalt as the star of the movie, as well as the vague description of the movie (paraphrasing: Paul is a huge New York Giants fan, who runs into his hero, a superstar Giants linebacker, then things don’t go as planned), I expected this to be a comedy. The trailer quickly stifled that suspicion as we see Paul get a beatdown from his hero, the fictional player Quantrell Bishop.
As I unfortunately have not seen The Wrestler yet, I was not familiar with Mr. Siegel’s writing, and this was his directorial debut. I had no expectations going into this movie.
The pacing of the movie is slow, pretty much matching the life of the main character Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt). Paul lives with his mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz), works as a fee-taker at a parking garage, has one friend, Sal (played by Kevin Corrigan), and doesn’t enjoy the company of the rest of his family. Paul’s only passion, at least what we see, is his love of the New York Giants. His small bedroom is a shrine to the Giants, complete with NFL-branded sheets, and he religiously watches every game. He is a regular caller, “Paul from Staten Island”, to the local sports talk radio station, and he scripts what he wants to say in those 20 or so on-air seconds for hours in his notepad. Those calls are robust and filled with fandom, and the radio show loves it. He and Sal go to each Giants home game, tailgate with the masses, but with no tickets, don’t go in, instead spending the time in the parking lot. They watch the game on a TV rigged to the car battery, just to be close to where it’s happening and be with other fans.
Paul’s relationships are only superficial. His mother irritates him, and she is obviously not amused by his “lack of a life,” but he lives with her, so he’s stuck. His brother Jeff is one of the ambulance-chaser lawyers ready to sue everyone. We are even treated to the debut of a badly-acted, badly-scripted TV commercial Jeff had made that you and I have all seen on our small screens during the day, or late at night. From what we are shown, Paul’s friendship with Sal consists of only one thing, the Giants. They don’t seem to do anything else, and if they do, the conversation only revolves around the Giants. Sal idolizes Paul’s drive to call in to the nighttime Sports Dogg show (voiced by Scott Ferrall), and praises Paul for hearing him on the radio and his insight.
There are two catalyst players in Paul’s life. The first is Giants linebacker Quantrell Bishop (played by newcomer Jonathan Hamm) and the other is Sports Dogg caller, and Paul’s on-air nemesis, “Philadelphia Phil”, played by Michael Rappaport. Philadelphia Phil is a Philly-based Eagles fan, and Giants-hater. Phil enjoys talking smack and even venturing into the New York airwaves by calling in to the Sports Dogg and making fun of the Giants team and fans, predicting the inevitable Giants downfall, and proclaiming Eagles dominance. Phil is a believable character, and I know fans that taunt other teams’ fans by joining in on their online forums and sports talk shows. Phil can be any hardcore sports fan.
Paul’s life changes forever when he and Sal are out grabbing a couple of slices of pizza one night and they see Bishop getting gas in his SUV right there in Staten Island. Seeing their hero in the flesh, they don’t think twice about following his truck just to see what he’s up to. Eventually the truck stops in a seedy neighborhood, yet Paul and Sal are naive enough to not realize that one of Bishop’s entourage is involved in buying drugs. The innocent stalking eventually winds up at a gentleman’s club. Paul and Sal also go in, and are so awestruck to see Bishop across the room, and trying to figure out how to introduce themselves, they both refuse a dance from one of the performers, with Sal even saying, “I’m on a job” before dismissing her. No spoilers here, because it can be seen in the trailer, but they eventually work up their courage to approach Bishop, where they let it be known that they followed him from Staten Island. A coked-up Bishop then beats Paul badly, putting him in the hospital where he wakes up three days later.
The rest of the movie deals with Paul’s misguided idolization of Bishop, who nearly killed him, and the affect on the Giants team, as they lose game after game because of Bishop’s suspension and the distraction to the team. We see Paul blame almost everyone around him, including himself, for what is happening to the team, yet not the person truly responsible for what has happened, Bishop. Paul remains an anonymous victim to the fans, and he feigns amnesia so he cannot give testimony to the investigating detective on the case. Paul’s whole life has collapsed, as the police detective doesn’t believe him, his family is irritated with him, his hero knocked falls from his pedestal, and his team is losing it’s Division lead. After weeks, and several Giants losses, the case is dropped against Bishop. Paul’s hell seems to be coming to an end, until he discovers that his brother files a multi-million dollar lawsuit against Bishop, on Paul’s behalf. Philadelphia Phil, through some simple online forum checking, discovers Paul’s last name, and outs him on the Sports Dogg. Paul’s anonymous, almost lethargic, life has now gone.
The movie’s climax leads down the NJ Turnpike to Philadelphia, and we see Philadelphia Phil for the first time at the bar where he told Paul on the Sports Dogg where he would be for the big Giants-Eagles game, if Paul wanted to “leave the dark side, and join up with Eagles Nation.”
We see in this movie how the misguided uber-fan places aside the life of ambition and family, and migrates to anything having to do with his one passion. His life is happy, as the director himself points out in our interview on EaglesFanCast, but that happiness rests solely on the success of his team. The beatdown does nothing to shake that devotion, and instead forces Paul to lose sight of what really matters in his life.
Big Fan is definitely a movie to see if you are any sports fan, let alone a football fan. Just about any fan can say they know of someone that takes the success of their team just a little too seriously. This is a window into the person that piles everything on their team, all of their love, their adoration, their respect… unfailingly. Robert Siegel has penned another great movie, and I definitely recommend people seek it out.