' ' Cinema Romantico: Big Fan

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Big Fan

This was not an easy movie to watch. Not for me. When you are someone who openly admitted, not more than two months ago, on his blog, for God's sake, that you had a mini nervous breakdown in the wake of the Nebraska/Texas Big 12 Championship Game, a game from which you did not emotionally recover for at least 96 hours, well, "Big Fan" is not going to wash over you like a summer's breeze. Not that you should assume I'm an exact replica of "Big Fan's" Paul Aufiero. Please don't assume that!

Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt) is an emotionally stunted 36 year old living at home with his mom and toiling away in as a ticket taker in a parking garage. His only friend seems to be Sal (Kevin Corrigan, who always makes me happy when he turns up in a movie and in a movie world where I ran things would be Brad Pitt - which actually sounds a little disturbing when I say it out loud). They are both beyond die hard New York Giants' fans. They watch the games in the parking lot of Giants Stadium, a TV rigged up to Paul's car. Good plays cause euphoria, bad plays cause physical illness.

We wonder if Paul has anything in his life other than the Giants. Perhaps he does? We see him scribbling in a notebook on the job but, alas, he is only prepping what he plans to say when he calls into a nightly sports radio show to rave about his beloved team and heckle the dastardly Philadelphia Phil (Michael Rapaport, perfectly cast), a rival Eagles fan. Of course, his mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz), constantly interrupts these diatribes. She fears he has no life. He claims he does. He claims he doesn't want the married, settled-down existence of his brother and sister.

The movie takes a turn into dementia when one night Paul and Sal, by chance, happen to spot their favorite Giants player, Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm), in their homeland of Staten Island. Like any nutso fan, they decide to follow Bishop and his posse. They follow him through Staten Island and then into Manhattan where the football star holds court at a posh strip club where a Bud Light costs $9. Paul and Sal are far less interested in the ladies then they are in devising a way to meet their hero. Eventually, they do. It goes haywire. Paul lets it slip that they followed Bishop all the way from Staten Island. Naturally, Bishop takes offense. Maybe not so naturally (or maybe so considering those wacky NFL players anymore), Bishop pummels him into such submission that Paul is shacked up in the hospital for a week.

Detectives want Paul to press charges. Paul's greasy lawyer brother wants him to file a suit. Bishop is suspended and can't play and, thus, the Giants' once promising season begins to suffer. Can you guess which of the three affects Paul the most?

"Big Fan" was written and directed by Robert Siegel who also wrote "The Wrestler" and who also used to be editor-in-chief of The Onion. I thought of that because I thought of a quote from The Onion that opened "Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer", Warren St. John's wonderful book about his "journey into the heart of fan mania", specifically into the heart of Alabama Crimson Tide fans. The quote:

"You will suffer shame and humiliation when the team from my area defeats the team from your area."

As St. John asked over and over in his book, why do we root? It's a legitimate question but not easy to answer. Here is another passage from St. John's book, a passage he wrote in regards to himself after Alabama's loss to their bitter enemy Auburn in 1989, that ran through my mind as I watched "Big Fan" (and that ran through my mind in the days after Nebraska lost to Texas):

"Crying one’s self to sleep over the failure of a group of people you’ve never met to defeat another group of people against whom you have no legitimate quarrel — in a game you don’t play, no less — is not rational."

Touché. Now books are different from films. In books you have plenty of time, pages and pages, in fact, to philosophically pour over these questions. In a film, however, a character's behavior must do the speaking and one thing I loved about Siegel's work here was his unwillingness to try and psychologically probe Paul. Sure, you can sense his mother trying to psychologically probe him but you can also tell it's of no use. Paul's actions do all the speaking for him. This is truly a journey into the heart of fan mania.

I want to discuss the end but don't want to give it away and so I will tread carefully from here on out. As the film progresses Paul seems to be losing his marbles and starts to chart one of those inevitable cinematic paths. But what I thought was going to happen doesn't exactly happen while, at the same time, it does. I apologize if that makes no sense but I don't wish to spoil the surprises.

I still think the notion that "it's just a game" is stupid, simplistic and archaic. I always will. But, that said, perspective is important. Did my happiness hinge on that one fateful second hanging so dramatically in the air when Colt McCoy heaved the ball out of bounds when my boy Ndamukong was about to knock the snot out of him again? Of course not. Not my eternal happiness. A game can bring us comfort. It can. But since it can comfort us the automatic flip side is that it can also sadden us. The trouble territory is when it begins to define us. I think if you looked up Paul Aufiero in the People Of Staten Island Dictionary it would say "Giants Fan" and....nothing else.

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