January 15, 2010

Compulsory Performance Review -- Cinematic Edition -- Big Fan

What's the difference between "passion" and "obsession"? Between "devoted fan" and "addiction"? Big Fan takes an introspective look into the self-delusional nature of those who claim to be the former, but weave scarily into the latter. It stars Patton Oswalt, who performs excellently as Paul Aufiero, a mid-thirties parking lot attendant who still lives with his mom in Staten Island, drives her car, and spends large parts of his monotonous day scripting smack-talk for a local New York area sports call-in show. His call-ins are anonymous performance art, and provide the only catharsis and real achievement in his life, although Aufiero seems fine with that. He can't even afford to go to the games, but tailgates in the parking lot anyway. His universe more or less implodes when a chance spotting of his Giants linebacker hero leads into a violent beating, and his loyalty to his team is placed in direct opposition to his family's wishes and his own dignity. When his anonymity (and brother's lawsuit against the player) gets exposed by his nemesis, Philadelphia Phil, on the call-in show, Paul decides to respond with appropriate rage and retribution.

Directed by Robert Siegel, who also wrote The Wrestler, the movie is light on sentimentalism and on portraying Aufiero as a hapless, sympathetic victim. Aufiero never focuses on the violence that was done to him by the Giants player, because his devotion to the team would somehow be in question, if he acted contrary to the best interests of the team. Instead, he focuses his rage on the slights of some unknown asshole on the radio. This projection and acting-out allows him to process his feelings (and manifestations) of impotence, rage, and alienation, without actually changing any of his limited life options in response. The last twenty minutes or so of the movie wallow in the dark, vicious, and often homophobic nature of regional sports rivalries, where rites of manhood get passed along on a barstool in a sports bar, profanely, loudly, and full of free-form bravado. I wish I could say that I didn't grow up in an environment similar to that (albeit on the high school football level), but I can't.

Considering that my last rental movie review on this blog was Anvil: The Story of Anvil, it's interesting how they evoke similar feelings of uncomfortableness for their main characters. You want to shake them by the collar, and say "get your shit together," but they are set on certain paths, and really don't define themselves by typical societal standards, to everyone around them's head-shaking disapproval. Big Fan is interesting from a sociological viewpoint almost as much as an entertainment one. Good performances, minimalist directing, subdued lighting and cinematography, and a story-line that avoids easy payoffs and happy-ending sentimentality -- it's an above average rental or Netflix streaming download.

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