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Written & Directed by
Robert Siegel
Produced by
Jean Kouremetis & Elan Bogarin
Released by First Independent Pictures
USA. 88 min. Rated R
Patton Oswalt, Michael Rapaport, Kevin Corrigan, Marcia Jean Kurtz, Matt Servitto & Jonathan Hamm

One theme that runs through David Chase’s The Sopranos and now former Sopranos writer Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men is the inability of human beings to really change. Epiphanies and therapy are mirages that function to trick us out of our ruts for a moment or two, but like a magnet in the middle of iron filings, all people are attracted back to those modes of behavior that are easier to inhabit. Tony Soprano and Don Draper may honestly desire to be different people, but metamorphosis requires effort and true introspection. In other words, real change is hard; humans are lazy and self-deluded. And episode after episode of these shows hammers home this worldview bleakly, an exhausting doctrine that gets by on the strength of the acting and writing.

Thematically, Big Fan is an exploration of the same trope, though coming from the other end of the power spectrum. Where Soprano and Draper are powerful people who—at least partly—desire to wield their power less brutally, Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt) is a nobody, whose chance to change for the better is decimated by his obsession. An almost middle-aged parking lot tollbooth operator, Aufiero lives with his mother on Staten Island and spends every waking moment obsessed with the Giants football team. His routine is the same—go to work, write out faux-extemporaneous comments to the local sports call-in show, go home, call in for his moment of recognition, masturbate quietly, and then sleep. On Sundays, he tailgates and watches the game on a small TV because he and his friend Sal (Kevin Corrigan) can’t afford tickets.

This endless banality is interrupted by a brutal beating, which Aufiero receives at the hands of his hero, Giants’ quarterback Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm). This incident breaks him out of his reverie for a moment and offers Aufiero a glimpse of his dreary existence. This chaotic moment gives him the impetus to change. However, these moments are fleeting, and when not grasped with sufficient gusto, dissipate into the air. Just under the conscious surface, Aufiero, like many protagonists in the same situation, wants to be different, but beyond the inertia and apathy holding him back, he is ill-equipped to truly take the steps required to become something else. He is an existential child; he doesn’t possess the tools to think about himself or his life in any meaningful way and therefore doesn't understand his dilemma for what it really is.

The philosopher Simone de Beauvoir has a wonderful term for this kind of person: the serious man. The serious man flees from his ability to make choices, to take responsibility for his existence, and in doing so, he places his subjectivity in some object or cause outside himself: “He loses himself in the object in order to annihilate his subjectivity.” For Aufiero, the Giants are the thing in which he invests his being, and in doing so, raises them to the level of idol. When Bishop proves himself to be no more than a thug, it’s not just that Aufiero sees his hero as human, fallible, and cruel, but rather that it reveals Aufiero to himself.

While this may only be debut director Robert Siegel's second script to be filmed (he also wrote The Wrestler), it's obvious that he finds something compelling about these kinds of characters, as Aufiero and Randy The Ram Robinson are both serious men. The viewer is at the ground level with Aufiero, and much like the small, personal films that populated the 1970s, this makes the audience that much more sympathetic towards Oswalt. Andy Beckerman
August 24, 2009



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