Ebertfest 2012: Is a ‘Big Fan’ faithful or foolish?

Like “Higher Ground,” “Big Fan” is about single-minded devotion, but instead of to God, the protagonist Paul (Patton Oswalt) is “the world’s biggest New York Giants fan.”

The forty-something Paul lives with his mother (Marcia Jean Kurtz) in Staten Island and by day works a mind-numbingly dull job as a parking garage attendant. During his time waiting in his booth, he composes diatribes to read at night when he makes his regular call as Paul from Staten Island to Sports Dogg radio talk show, often challenging or berating Philadelphia Phil, a Philadelphia Eagles fan.

 

Paul has no girlfriend and the highlight of his life is attending Giants games—not watching them in the stadium because he and his best friend, a sad sack named Sal (Kevin Corrigan) can’t afford the tickets. Instead they strut around, take in the camaraderie of fellow fans and pump themselves up before they hook up a TV to a car battery to watch the game. They are literally watching the game at the stadium. More than that is a game of semantics.

 

While Paul seems satisfied with his lifestyle, the rest of his family is waiting for him to grow up, get a real job, have a family. Who does he have to look up to? His sleazy personal-injury brother who divorced his first wife to marry his busty  former secretary with an overbaked tan.

 

What seems like a stroke of luck becomes a life-changing challenge to this big fan. He spots the Giants’ star player, Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm). We recognize him from a poster on Paul’s bedroom wall. Paul and Sal follow him first to a seedy part of town and then to a Manhattan strip club. At the club, instead of leering at girls, the boys Paul and Sal can’t stop staring at Bishop until they finally get the gumption to introduce themselves. After a small misunderstanding, Bishop beats Paul unconscious.

 

What happens next forces Paul to make choices and even sacrifices to prove just how big a Giants fan he is. Can you understand obsession at this level? Don’t we all know someone who has checked out of living life by latching on to someone, some thing that is larger than life, that somehow represents something better to them and by association makes them better?

 

To a certain extent isn’t that what Briggs found wrong with her religious sect? Sometimes the fault isn’t in the religion, but the level of fanaticism and for the fictional Giants fan Paul and perhaps even his nemesis Phil, their church is a stadium filled with false gods who may fail them, but a true fan may be required to rise to the occasion.

 

By following their faith against all logic and reason, don’t fans and fanatics get what they deserve?

–My report from the Ebertfest in April 2012. 

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