The Oscillations of “Big Fan”
Patton Oswalt stars as Paul Aufiero, the titular “Big Fan.” He’s 35 years old, lives at home with his mom in Staten Island, works as a parking lot attendant, has his walls plastered with sports posters and has his wastebasket filled with crumpled Kleenex. Aufiero’s life revolves around his devotion to the New York Giants. He spends hours working on tirades for the local call-in sports radio show, which he passes off as extemporaneous to his best friend Sal, played by Kevin Corrigan in a modest yet compelling performance.
The story is straight forward enough; Aufiero’s family can’t understand why he won’t do something with his life like become a sleaze ball personal-injury lawyer like his brother, complete with a fake-breasted trophy wife, or get in on the ground floor of the buy-in-bulk store that his sister works for (they’re on pace to compete with Costco, after all).
They also can’t understand why Aufiero can’t be more like his father, who is a notable absence. He’s a death we’re not privy to and he lived a life that we are led to believe revolved around marriage, home-ownership and working until he left Aufiero’s mother a widow. The supporting characters are all believable “New Yawk” stereotypes, and while they rarely come off as cartoons of themselves, it’s a little too easy for us to side with Paul in not wanting their lives.
Aufiero ends up following his idol, Giants linebacker Quantrell Bishop, from Staten Island to a Manhattan strip club where he and Sal come off a little strong in the VIP area and Paul gets thoroughly beat up. The second act of the movie centers on his internal conflict about whether or not to help prosecute his team’s star player, whose suspension is slowly killing the Giants’ season. In one heart-wrenching scene, we watch Aufiero call the radio show to defend Quantrell. “We don’t know what happened in the club that night,” Aufiero says, while choking on every word. Nobody knows that “Paul from Staten Island” was also the victim.
I won’t give away any more of the story, but the build-up to the climax had me terrified and on the edge of my seat. Siegel builds the tension until the audience is ready to snap. He spends much of the movie’s last 20 minutes preparing us for the movie’s only real twist — and we still don’t expect it.
The unfortunate thing about “Big Fan” is how its black characters are portrayed. The white cast is made up of stereotypes with depth and touches of humanity, but the black cast is an assortment of black stereotypes: the vicious, hypersexual black celebrity and his entourage of thugs and jesters. While Siegel makes obvious comments about “The American Dream,” he lazily recreates the black savage with no comment about race and celebrity. We’re left with the same lazy portrayal of spoiled black athletes, who are all glorified man-child thugs to begin with. They’re the ones who can get away with murder because of spineless whites and conniving blacks who never tell on each other.
Aside from this stereotype, the movie makes many brave choices, especially when Aufier refuses redemption. Aufiero is so adamant and unapologetic after the pain and catastrophe he goes through, that the story is more rewarding than him learning some lesson about hero-worship or naiveté. And contrary to what this review may have led you to believe, the movie is hilarious! It is, at once, a gripping drama, fearless character study, brutally honest dissection of life in the lower-middle class and one of the most engrossing movies I’ve enjoyed.