17
Sep
2009
Review: Big Fan
Big Fan
Jordan
Exactly how far will we go to maintain our views of the world? What do we want out of life, and is that really any different than what we "should" want? After watching The Wrestler, a gripping look at some of these questions, it's no surprise that Robert Siegel (who wrote The Wrestler and both wrote and directed Big Fan) would follow it up with another movie that asks big questions in the way every person does: slowly over time, while they continue living their lives.

Paul (Patton Oswalt) is a parking garage attendant by day and a frequent caller to a New York Giants radio program at night. Paul is the titular big fan, so much so that he scripts out all of his diatribes before delivering them, and even rehearses how he'll deliver each barb. He may not be as successful as his siblings, and he may have to yell quietly into the phone so as not to wake his mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz), but Paul is perfectly satisfied to spend his days concocting rants, and his nights delivering them. That is, until he sees his favorite player Quantrell Bishop (John Hamm, though slightly different that the one playing Don Draper over on Mad Men) at a gas station. Paul and his always supportive sidekick Sal (Kevin Corrigan) tail Bishop into the city and into a strip club, where they get up the nerve to go over and say hi. They're fandom quickly elevates to slightly creepy, and Bishop reacts by kicking Paul's ass, hospitalizing him and potentially causing brain damage. As Paul deals with the potential legal, financial, and personal fallout of his encounter with his hero, the movie gets into serious moral and ethical territory. Patton is tremendous as a man with a tenuous grip on everything he loves, divided between his faith and the reality that keeps being imposed on him, first by the fists of his idol, and later by everyone from his mother, to his overbearing brother, to an Eagle's fan (Michael Rapaport) who is just as voracious in his support.

Big Fan is a meditation on how far faith can drive us, of what we are willing to do to cling to the things that make us feel comfortable. It's an examination of a man pushed as far as he can be in a test of his faith, and forced to question everything he holds dear. As such, religious imagery permeates the film, unsurprisingly mostly in Paul's car. It's no shock that a man intensely devoted to his team has a cross hanging on his rearview mirror and the Virgin Mary sitting on his dashboard. In a telling scene near the film's mid-point, Paul's mother reorganizes her bags of Chinese food sauce packets, which she saves because "it's a sin to throw away food." The only spoken reference to religion in the entire film (if memory serves) says quite a lot about the movie as a whole. Logic and common sense have nothing to do with her actions. She is entirely driven by faith. Paul mocks her for this, only vaguely cognizant of the fact that his nightly ritual (which, by the way, is not unlike prayer) has no meaning to anyone but him, that the life he has chosen is just as empty as his mother reorganizing her endless packets of soy sauce. It's a heart wrenching scene, yet empty as his life may seem from the outside, it brings him happiness, whether or not he's ever approved of by anyone, including his hero Quantrell Bishop.

The movie asks us what matters more, the things we are told to want, or the things we come to desire ourselves? It also wonders how important faith is in our lives, be it faith in God or in the New York Giants. Finally, it asks us whether we care more about happiness or truth. These are important questions, and the answers Big Fan offers may not always be expected, but they are always honest in a way that tells us (as the best movies do) something about our lives and the way we live them, for better or worse. Glaringly honest, sometimes blisteringly hilarious and occasionally desperately bleak, the movie shows unfalteringly a man looking into his own abyss, and wondering whether he is satisfied with what he sees.

Grade: A
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