Big Fan (2009) dir. Robert Siegel
Starring: Patton Oswald, Kevin Corrigan, Michael Rapaport
It’s great timing for writer/director Robert Siegel. If you didn’t recognize his name, he’s the red hot talented scribe of Darren Aronofsky’s “The Wrestler”. Hot off the heals of that film, Siegel has made his directorial debut, a low budget 70’s style loner film/black comedy about an obsessed NY Giants football fan. Like “The Wrestler” honest characterizations trump the pitfalls of other lesser films of its ilk.
Patton Oswald is Paul Aufiero, a parking lot ticket checker who lives in his mom’s basement. While his friends have all moved on life, gotten careers, marriage etc, Paul appears to lead a stunted existence. His only respite are his beloved NY Giants. His Sunday night ritual after watching the game is to phone in to his favourite call-in show to gloat and insult his crosstown rivals the Philadelphia Eagles. Aufiero is so obsessed he meticulously writes down a word-for-word transcript before making his call.
One night Paul and his buddy Sal (Kevin Corrigan) happen to see their idol, QB Quantrell Bishop, pumping gas. The superfans proceed to follow him and his pals across town and into a strip club. After a couple of pathetic attempts to make contact Aufiero gets the balls to say hi. Unfortunately an inappropriate comment causes Bishop to snap and give Paul a violent beat down sending him to hospital. When Bishop is suspended for the incident and the Giants start losing Paul has to make a number of crucial decisions about his team and his life.
Siegel is not shy about his influences. In his Q&A Siegel unabashedly said he wanted to make a “Martin Scorsese’ film. Paul Aufiero certainly fits in with Scorsese’s obsessive loners. He’s part Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver), part Rupert Pupkin (King of Comedy). Like Pupkin, Aufiero’s basement serves as his bomb shelter of private secrets. A place where he lives out his fantasy life without ridicule (except maybe by mom).
Siegel refused to say what the budget on the film was, but it was low. Considering his limitations it’s a film of reasonably professional quality. If he’s aspiring for the greats, it’s no surprise Siegel's direction is auteur-like, some long takes, untraditional coverage, but all very modest and not excessive - think two other Scorsese-influenced debuts, "Hard Eight”, or “Buffalo 66”.
The major crutch on the film is the second act which has Aufiero in the hospital and his family and police urging him to take legal action against Bishop. At this point we're in Paul’s mind but we know his decision. So without action or narrative to drive the act, it stalls. Fortunately Siegel’s finale is a stunner. Siegel sets up expectations and lets his hero take action and stand up for the team he loves.
It’s a marvellously shot and edited sequence, creating some unbearable and uncomfortable tension. This finale echoes Vincent’s finale confrontation in “Buffalo 66”. The apperance of Michael Rapaport for the last scene is inspired casting. He sells the character of Aufiero’s douchebag nemesis in a brief but memorable performance.
Like his characterization of Mickey Rourke’s character in “The Wrestler” Siegel’s writing stays true to his character. Aufiero’s journey is not about growing up, moving out of his basement or achieving success, it’s about coming grips with who he is, and supporting the team he loves through thick and thin.
Though it’s not “The Wrestler”, the two films make for a decent one-two punch for Siegel, a new name to watch out for in American auteur cinema. Enjoy.