“I can’t tell you how I sick I am,” hardcore New York Giants fan Paul Aufiero says as the first frames of Big Fan roll. He repeats it. “I can’t tell you how sick I am.”
Aufiero, played against type by lumpy comic Patton Oswalt, is preparing a rant for the Sports Dog radio show that he faithfully calls in to every night. He’s had it with a guy known as Philadelphia Phil who is always ragging on his team and extolling the virtues of the rival Eagles. But Paul’s opening words are also a blaring signal to the audience — this is not a well-adjusted character.
Robert D. Siegel (former editor-in-chief of The Onion and screenwriter of The Wrestler) makes his directorial debut with Big Fan, a character study that finds a home within both dark comic and tragic genres, but ultimately fails to give any real insight into the sports-obsessed psyche of a man who’s never been good at much of anything other than rooting for the hometown team. As the opening lines suggest, this is a film that tells us Paul is sick more than it shows us anything interesting about said sickness.
For his part, Oswalt does a capable job in the dramatic role, although perhaps he lacks the kind of emotional gravitas necessary to really sell the part. Think Taxi Driver with a comedic actor trying to play it straight. Paul still lives with his henpecking mother (a hilarious Marcia Jean Kurtz) and is content with his low-level parking garage attendant job, even though his more successful siblings want to help him find something better.
What Paul really lives for is Giants football, and his favorite player is linebacker Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm). Together with buddy Sal (Kevin Corrigan), the two spend every home game sitting outside Giants Stadium watching the game on a jury-rigged TV, too poor to afford tickets.