Robert Siegel’s script for Darren Aronofsky’s The Wrestler was essentially The Passion Of The Christ in spandex. Now, Siegel’s directorial debut, Big Fan, follows the world’s biggest Giants fan—played by Patton Oswalt—as he has an unpleasant encounter with his favorite player, and subsequently contemplates a conversion. (The character’s name, appropriately enough, is “Paul.”) Oswalt also wrestles with a potential sacrifice, suffers physical pain for the sake of his team, and even briefly changes his name. It’s hard to say whether Siegel intentionally laced Big Fan with Christian themes, or he’s just drawing on the common well of spiritual-crisis stories. Either way, Big Fan is clearly a movie of ambition, and not just a melancholy comedy about a football-loving schmuck who gets his ass kicked by everyone he loves.
Also elevating Big Fan: the well-articulated milieu, which moves from dank Staten Island bedrooms to lavish suburban homes to Manhattan strip clubs. Oswalt works in a parking garage, and structures his day around his calls to sports talk radio, but while he looks like a schlub, he seems fairly content with his life. Except that his family nags him constantly about his go-nowhere career and lack of romantic prospects, and he’s surrounded by looming reminders of material success. And since Oswalt’s identity—and sense of righteousness—is bound up in his team, his resolve takes a blow with every Giants failure.
Big Fan follows what happens after Oswalt discovers that a personal hero isn’t all he’s cracked up to be, and how that revelation prompts him to question his own belief system. Because most of that struggle is internal, Big Fan sags noticeably in the middle. (It doesn’t help that Siegel doesn’t give Oswalt enough opportunities to be funny.) On the other hand, because the audience isn’t privy to the hero’s thoughts, the final 15 minutes or so of Big Fan are white-knuckle. Once Oswalt puts a plan in motion to restore his dignity—on his own terms—the movie concludes with a series of tense, unpredictable scenes. Isn’t that why we love sports so much, because we never know what will happen? If viewers get frustrated with Big Fan’s flabby midsection, they should take a cue from its protagonist and show a little faith.
[Editor’s note: Robert Siegel is a former editor of The Onion and a friend to several A.V. Club staffers. He has never met Noel Murray.]