Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Robert Siegel's BIG FAN: an unusual look at the sports mania of the American male

The Onion once did a wildly hilarious and on-the-mark piece about the American male view of sports as all-important by simply having the male response to sports parrot the manner in which intelligent people respond to their government and its actions. Not being at all a sports fan, TrustMovies approached the new film BIG FAN with some trepidation. No need. This is the first

directorial outing for Robert Siegel, whose only previous film writing credits are for The Wrestler and -- yes! -- The Onion Movie (Siegel was formerly Editor-in-Chief of The Onion). It is difficult to imagine a smoother transition.

On what appears to be a minuscule budget and in less than 90 minutes, Mr. Siegel (shown, right) tells a terrific story -- funny, sad, surprising and utterly believable -- that skewers our sports craziness without ever once seeming cheap or obvious. The writer/
director has chosen his main character and situation -- not to men-
tion his lead actor, Patton Oswalt -- exceedingly well. Oswalt (shown on the poster above and in the photos below) plays Paul, a parking garage attendant who works nights and listens (and makes frequent calls) to a local sports radio station. A massive NY Giants fan, he lives with his mom (Marcia Jean Kurtz, below right), and some of the movie's most excruciatingly funny scenes involve Paul's late-night calls, as his mother screams at him to shut up.

During his days, Paul and his friend Sal (another indispensable performance from the always fine Kevin Corrigan, below, right) spend their time "in-season" listening to the game from the parking lot of the stadium. Then one night, as they pass a gas station... Enough plot-telling. Siegel makes excellent use of one single, and therefore allowable, coincidence, and from that his movie takes off into very interesting territory where he is able to legitimately explore the extremes of fandom, family and friendship.

Mr. Siegel appears to have cast his movie himself, an unusual move for a first-time director, I think, but one that has certainly paid off. Every role, down to the smallest, seems well-performed, with most of the actors (outside of Oswalt, Kurtz, Corrigan and Michael Rapaport, who does a fine turn late in the film) unknown to me. In Patton Oswalt, Siegel has combined performer with performance in a manner that, were there any real movie justice, would win the "big" award. Just look at that mug, below. Has ever a face corralled more empathy? Unlike The Wrestler, which, for me, proved eventually overbearing, obvious and contrived, Big Fan never goes beyond what works. And it keeps surprising us. This is a directorial debut of which Siegel should be very, very proud. (But not too proud: We don't want to see him come down with Hollywood-itis, also known as a fat head.)

Big Fan opens this Friday, August 28, via First Independent Pictures, in New York City, at the Angelika Film Center, and Philadelphia at Landmark's Ritz at the Bourse, with other locations to follow soon. Check complete city/showtime schedule here.

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