Robert Siegel wrote the script for The Wrestler, which was an engrossing sports-related movie that looked at a man on the fringes of society. Big Fan is his directing debut (he also wrote the script) and he less successfully mines the same territory, this time focusing on the warped culture of rabid sports fandom, embodied here by one man's unhealthy obsession with the NFL's New York Giants.
That man is named Paul Aufiero, as played by Patton Oswalt. Oswalt is best known for his stand-up comedy, being the voice of Remy the rat in Pixar's Ratatouille, and playing Spence, the loser friend on TV's King Of Queens with a crappy job (toll booth collector), no love life, and still living with his mother. Big Fan's Paul character is given virtually the same set of circumstances (except here he's a parking garage attendant), but Paul inhabits a much darker world, driven by a pathological allegiance to the Giants that literally shapes his life and is the foundation of his identity. Sundays during football season finds him and his only friend Sal (played by indie veteran Kevin Corrigan) tailgating in the Giants Stadium parking lot during home games, but reduced to watching the actual game from a small television set sitting in the trunk of their car and powered by a generator, while they soak up whatever atmosphere they can from the roar of the crowd in the distance. During and after work, Paul spends his time scripting the supposedly off-the-cuff regular late night calls he makes to the local sports talk radio show that are well-received by the host and listeners, offering a brief respite from the anonymity and invisibility of his day to day life.
Oswalt is well-cast as the anti-hero caught up in a serious case of arrested development. He clashes with his family over his lack of desire for the societal conventions of a wife (or girlfriend), starting his own family, or a successful career. Paul is always happy to let his Giants freak flag fly, never missing an opportunity to wear a jersey, toque, or cell phone holder with the team's logo, while sleeping under his NFL bed sheets beneath a poster of his favourite player (fictional superstar linebacker Quantrell "QB" Bishop). A chance meeting with QB that turns horribly wrong sets up the latter two thirds of the movie, although that event and some other farfetched plot contrivances that follow feel a little too convenient and ring hollow.
The movie is unsettling, both in its subject matter and the style in which Siegel presents his film. There's a minimalist, low-key feel to Big Fan, not uncommon with this type of indie fare and the dark humour isn't as up front as you'd expect in a movie starring Oswalt. Combine the film's overall uneven tone with the highly unpredictable (and unfulfilling) ending and you're left with a wobbly effort that fumbles instead of scores.