This might very well be a prime example of fine filmmaking but that doesn’t make it enjoyable to watch. Every year’s Academy Awards nomination list is full of films with “stories that need to be told” and “fearless performances that demand attention”, but in the main I watch movies for enjoyment, and if I must learn something it better be important.
Watching Big Fan all I learned is that there are a lot more sporting die-hards out there, and that some take their obsession way too far.
The story is simplicity itself.
A normal everyday man in his late 30s (?) named Paul lives and dies by the success or failure of his sporting team, (in this case the New York Giants). His entire life revolves around following the team, predicting the outcome of future matches and playoff positioning, and trashing the unfortunate supporters of other teams who dare exhibit similar passion for other clubs.
(I know some of these guys in real life. Hell in some ways I am parts of this guy and millions of similar guys whose personal satisfaction is somehow impacted by the performance of others.)
Paul’s life is thrown into turmoil when an encounter with his favourite player goes sour, and Paul ends up in hospital, only he feels guilt that he somehow caused his team suffering by the negative publicity created through the skirmish.
Of course there is more to it than just that, but everything else that happens brings the plot back to those two things, (1) Paul’s love and obsession for his team; and (2) the conflicting emotions that being beaten up by a member of that team brings.
Much has been written about Patton Oswalt’s performance as the obsessive and mildly pathetic Paul, and most of it is full of praise. (I’m a big Patton fan by the way and his name on the box was the reason I hunted this down in the first place, so I should be a sympathizer.) However after the credits rolled I felt strangely underwhelmed by the whole 100 minutes I had just sat through. In fact my initial impression was “Is that it??”
After ruminating about it overnight I realized that this was one case where the consensus seemed about right, the movie itself was very basic and in (a great) many ways filled with logic and plotholes, but even though I never felt that Paul was anything less than deserving of his fate I tried to see things from his point of view.
But does this mean Patton Oswalt was any good? I think yes, as with such a simple story anything less than a strong performance would lose the audience from the get go.
– From the first grandiose calls full of faux-macho posturing to the sports talk-back station in which simultaneously lauds his team while taking potshots at their nemesis.
– From Paul’s first tailgate party outside the NFL arena that ended with him and his mate watching the game on a crappy TV still in car park while the actual game went on only metres away in the stadium.
– From the first time his conniving lawyer brother tries to convince him to sue the player, only to be met with defiance, as doing so would hurt the team.
At every stage if Patton wasn’t believable then the audience would quickly realize that they were watching a crappy film, as there are no jokes to fill the slow parts, and no action to move the pace along.
In the past I have thought that saying “the movie sucks but this guy was good” was simply sticking up for someone that they liked who chose to act in a sucky movie, Denzel Washington (Training Day), Tom Hanks (Castaway) and Will Smith (I Am Legend) seem to get these judgment calls all the time as in real life they are so seemingly likeable that bagging them might seem nasty. I mean everyone has to act in a dodgy film every now and then right?
In this case though I have to agree that Patton Oswalt’s performance deserves more merit than the film, but that doesn’t change the fact that I think Big Fan is still really a dodgy film in essence and I find it hard to recommend.
So perhaps it might be more apt for me to say “Even though Big Fan isn’t very entertaining, it would have been worse if it wasn’t for Patton Oswalt’s efforts in making Paul more believable.
There. I think I can sleep at night now.
Note: It is also worth noting that despite being a movie that revolves around sport, you don’t see a single NFL logo on display, nor a moment of actual sports action through the film.
Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. Sport is still great. Here is a movie with sport at the core that really isn’t, regardless of what movie critics might say.