Big Fan (First Independent Pictures, R)

film_big-fan_sm.gifOswalt’s performance here is easily the best I’ve seen by an actor all year, it is more a case of him being well-cast than him really showing what he has as an actor.

 

 

 

 

 

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At the South by Southwest Film Festival back in March of 2005, I saw the Michael Blieden-directed documentary The Comedians of Comedy, which I loved, and then had the benefit of seeing the actual Comedians of Comedy (Patton Oswalt, Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn and Maria Bamford) perform live a night or two later, which was an utterly fantastic show and opportunity. Ever since, I’ve been a big fan of Patton, Zach and Brian as stand-up comedians. (Maria’s pretty funny, too; just not as good as the other three.) Earlier this year Galifianakis got his big break in the hugely successful The Hangover, and while he did good work in it, I couldn’t help but feel like he deserved better—it’s the old conundrum where I’m glad that he is now successful, but I can’t help but wish he had been recognized for his previous better efforts. And now, as if to match, Patton Oswalt has a starring role in a smaller film, Big Fan, the directorial debut of Robert Siegel, ex-editor of The Onion and writer of last year’s The Wrestler. Oswalt’s work in Big Fan deserves to make him a star—much more than The Hangover did for Galifianakis—and the film’s much better, too.

Very obviously inspired by what is maybe my favorite Martin Scorsese film, 1982’s The King of Comedy, Big Fan is a black, black comedy about a parking garage attendant, Paul Aufiero (Oswalt), who is refreshingly happy with his station in life (sloppy, overweight, crappy job, lives with his mother in Staten Island, no romantic interests), mostly on account of his all-consuming passion for his favorite team, the New York Giants. One day Paul and his maybe even more worthless friend Sal (the great, usually underused Kevin Corrigan) see the Giants’ (fictional) star player, Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm), at a gas station near their house. Impulsively deciding to follow him, Paul eventually finds himself beaten within an inch of his life by his favorite player, the scandal from which effectively brings down Bishop and, by extension, the Giants, which Paul spends the rest of the movie trying to deal with.

Oswalt’s performance here is easily the best I’ve seen by an actor all year, it is more a case of him being well-cast than him really showing what he has as an actor. While Paul is much darker and dumber than Oswalt is in real life, those familiar with Oswalt’s stand-up routines will see that he isn’t stretching too far. Still, chalk this up with Courtney Love in The People vs. Larry Flynt in terms of powerhouse performances from out-of-left-field, well-cast non-actors.

And this isn’t to overlook Siegel’s achievement—he hits the awkward gray area between comedy and drama very effectively, and keeps an amazing consistency in tone throughout the film—it’s a fine line he’s treading. Perhaps more amazing is that he made me feel what it’s like to be that insane a fan of a sports team, which is not something I would have thought I’d have been able to sympathize with. But hell, I guess in his last film he made me sympathize with an ex-professional wrestler. Makes one wonder what Siegel could do with a character I relate more to… | Pete Timmermann

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