PERHAPS IT DEPENDS on how you feel about The Wrestler. The Oscar-nominated film starring Mickey Rourke was loudly praised for Darren Aronofsky's naturalistic, Rocky-style direction and its clever take on the moral rebirth of a fallen professional wrestler. However, the script itself—written by Robert D. Siegel—received fewer accolades, primarily because of a simplistic, paint-by-numbers plot. Regardless, based on The Wrestler's success, Siegel has now been given the keys to the car, writing and directing the new Patton Oswalt vehicle Big Fan—a film which, while wildly similar in style and tone to The Wrestler, ain't no Wrestler.
Comedian Oswalt—who has shown great range recently in both TV and film—stars as Paul Aufiero, a nebbish, obsessive New York Giants fan who works as a parking garage attendant and is a minor celebrity on the local sports radio talk show, thanks to his vitriolic monologues that sing the eternal praises of his favorite team. Unfortunately, that's all he has going for him. Paul still lives with his naggy mom, and is under constant scrutiny from his "successful" relatives to get a real job and a girlfriend. However, everything changes after Paul meets his favorite Giants player, Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm), who, in a coke-fueled rage, beats the ever-loving shit out of Paul, sending his biggest fan into a three-day coma.
And herein lies the moral crux of the film: Does Paul rat out his hero, putting his favorite team's chances of going to the Super Bowl in jeopardy? Or does he excuse the actions of his one true love, keeping the abusive prick out of prison?
The most interesting aspects of Big Fan lie in Oswalt's performance: He plays Paul with just the right mixture of pathos and creepiness, and Paul's obsessiveness is understandable (partly because you can't throw a rock without hitting a sports bar filled with exactly this type of person). And while the idea of pro football fans being a metaphor for victims of domestic abuse is initially clever, it eventually comes off as ham-fisted—which was kind of the problem with The Wrestler, yes?
It's understandable for Siegel—still a cinematic neophyte—to ape the style of his first success. But Big Fan is far too similar in style and tone to The Wrestler for my taste. And while Big Fan's questionable ending may be unexpected, the buildup to that finale is a predictable journey that aims for the Oscar, but receives a big "Ehh" instead.