Sports fans are everywhere. If you’re going to make a movie centered around sports, you’d better get it right. If you’re going to make a movie centered around the NFL, you really better get it right because no sport is more scrutinized here in America. Well, maybe wrestling, but that’s not a sport.
In Big Fan, Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt) is an obsessed fan of the New York Giants. He is so obsessed that when he sees his favorite player, Quantrelle Bishop, at a gas station, Paul follows him through a seedy section of Staten Island and eventually to an upscale gentlemen’s club in Manhattan. Although Bishop is large and menacing on the field, he is actually rather friendly when Paul works up the guts to approach him and confess to being a big fan. But when Paul lets it slip that he followed the Giant’s star for what might have been hours, Bishop gets so angry that he kicks Paul’s ass, not only hospitalizing his biggest fan but also getting himself suspended from the team pending the investigation. Although Paul could collect millions for the beating, his hesitation brings happiness to nobody – not his family, the police, or the press. He’s such a fan that when he wakes up from the beating and learns he was unconscious for three days, the first thing he wants to know is if the Giants won the game that he missed.
The press includes not just newspapers but sports talk radio, where Paul has carved out his own little niche. He is also known as “Paul from Staten Island,” a frequent caller to a late-night sports radio show on which he proclaims the Giants as the greatest thing since sliced quarterbacks. Challenging Paul is another caller, known as Philadelphia Phil, an Eagles fan who torments Paul and Giants fans with his audio and South Philly version of “brotherly love.” There’s a great scene at the end of the film when Paul actually does travel down to Philadelphia and looks for his Philly sports radio counterpart. I won’t say what happens, but I will say that I was happily fooled by what I thought was happening and what actually did happen. Since Paul still lives with his mother, there are several funny scenes in which she’s yelling at him to be quiet while he’s getting hyped up on the phone very late at night. One time she even picks up an extension and is also heard on the air. The radio station that Paul frequently listens to and calls is based on WFAN 660 in New York, a station that I’ve listened to since its inception 25 years ago in 1987. A fun trivia question is, “Whose voice was the first heard on the nation’s first all-talk all-sports radio station?” That would be Susan Woldman, who now does the radio broadcasts for the New York Yankees.
The problem with making a movie about the NFL is that it is so very specific and so widely known. Here’s what I mean. The movie starts with the Giants having a record of 9 wins and 2 losses. That’s 11 games, which normally would place the NFL season somewhere around Thanksgiving. Later in the film, when Philadelphia Phil invites Paul to abandon his beloved but slumping Giants and become a new fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, it is almost the last game of the season, which usually takes place around New Years. At no time did I see any Christmas decorations other than a few Santa hats in a bar. There was nothing in any exterior shots or inside the homes of Paul or Jeff, his wealthy attorney brother to indicate the holidays. There were more decorations hanging on the chest of Jeff’s implanted and inflated wife than anywhere else. Also, one of the sports radio segments talked about how the Yankees were doing in the playoffs. But a good sports fan knows that the World Series would have been over before the Thanksgiving, which was when the movie started.
Patton Oswalt is a perfect, squeaky voiced, lovable semi-loser in Paul. Michael Rappaport plays the brash bully “Philadelphia Phil,” Paul’s opposite who sits at the other end of one of the roughest sports rivalries. Without being specific, let me warn you to pay close attention to the first shot of the film. There’s a very quick little tribute to a previous role played by Oswalt, who lent his vocal talents to Remy, the chef who was also a rat in Disney’s Ratatouille.
In the Q&A after the film, director Robert Seigel mentioned how much of sports fan he is and how he tried his best to get things right. He did admit, however, to goofing up a parking lot scene at Giants Stadium in which there were empty parking spaces very close to the stadium, which is an impossibility at a stadium that’s been sold out for just about every game in its existence. Add that to the other things I mentioned, and I admit that’s picky stuff, but that’s what happens when deep sports fans watch sports movies. In Jerry Maguire, also involving the NFL, there was a football scene in which the Dallas Cowboys and the Arizona Cardinals were lining up for a play. Announcer Al Michaels voice could be heard saying that it was “second down,” a typical football play. Unfortunately, the down marker on screen very clearly had a giant 1, indicating that the footage used was a 1st down play and not a 2nd down.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to pay attention and get it right. However, this movie is good enough that we can easily ignore things like that and enjoy a simple movie about a simple guy who knows and likes his simple place in life. He’s comfortable with himself, and you’ll be comfortable seeing Big Fan.