City Paper is not for tourists
In Big Fan, Paul Aufiero, the self-proclaimed “world’s biggest Giants fan,” shuffles through his days in the colorless working class neighborhoods of Staten Island and spends his nights as an attendant in a dimly lit parking lot booth. Played with a subdued intensity by comedian Patton Oswalt, Paul is the nonsanitized, laugh-trackless counterpoint to Oswalt’s King of Queens character, Spence Olchin. Biding his time in a local pizzeria one night alongside his friend Sal (Kevin Corrigan), Paul catches a glimpse of New York Giants linebacker Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm) at a local gas station. For Paul and Sal, two Giants fanatics, this is the cue to follow Bishop’s SUV over the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. As the evening descends into chaos, writer/director Robert Siegel, who wrote The Wrestler, doesn’t bog the film down with rote themes of celebrity worship or media frenzies, instead keeping the focus on Paul’s unpredictable internal processing. His intentions are ambiguous enough to keep us guessing, but his actions are never grotesque or cartoonish. While Bishop’s larger-than-life presence looms over the film (literally, in a Herculean pose above Aufiero’s bed), Oswalt and Corrigan’s interactions are the heart of Big Fan. Sal listens intently to his partner’s rants, beaming as he tweaks an anonymous rival known as Philadelphia Phil (Michael Rapaport, exuding his usual charming arrogance). With his Phil Simms vanity plate and pennants tacked to the wall, Paul is a recognizable stock character, routinely played for laughs or sympathy but unusual as a protagonist. Siegel provides Paul with a socially sanctified obsession—whether he’s following Bishop or spouting off to a sports radio call-in show—a loving wink to New York’s sandpaper-voiced Chris “Mad Dog” Russo. That his bravado must be whispered to avoid waking his mother is never a deterrent, until one day it is. Paul oozes pathos; he’s irritable, has questionable hygiene, and rarely, if ever, interacts with the opposite sex. His passion feels questionable because it’s so damn solitary: For the thousands of fans who lather themselves in paint and drunkenly rattle off obscenities while grilling in the below freezing parking lot, game day is cushioned by families, respectable vocations, and social relationships. No such support exists for Paul. Football season never ends, and no one, besides Mom, is there to tell him it’s time to get off the phone. And would you want him to?