Big Fan (2009)

Rated: R for language and some sexuality.
Length: 88 minutes
Grade: AFAA+=A
Budget: $250,000
Box Office: $234,000

Written and Directed by: Robert D. Siegel (The Wrestler, The Onion Movie)
Starring: Patton Oswalt
With: Kevin Corrigan and Michael Rapaport

Paul is a middle-aged, single, parking lot attendant who lives with his mother and whose entire life is defined by his love of the Giants and his ability to be a regular caller to a sports talk show in New York. Aside from that, Paul has nothing in life, but the kicker is that he doesn’t WANT anything else. Though his family keeps pressing him to get a good job or a wife, he just finds their suggestions offensive. He and his friend (who worships his ability to call the radio show) are completely happy despite their seemingly pathetic and ridiculous lives which revolve around football and sports radio. Then, they have the best night of their lives as they follow their hero to a strip club and sit nervously watching him from across the room. When they finally get up the courage to meet him, he beats Paul within an inch of his life. This gets him suspended and threatens to ruin the Giants’ season. So Paul decides to not press charges in the hopes his team can return to their former selves and a run at the playoffs. I know I don’t normally tell you so much about the plot of a movie, but I doubt very many of you have seen or even will see this movie. And since I wanted to talk about this movie so much, I have to tell you the plot so you’ll understand the analysis.

Entertainment Value: A
This is one of my favorite movies in recent months, and the saddest thing about it is that so few people ever have or ever will see it. Also, I have to admit that I doubt most people would even enjoy it so much, so I really have to give it an A for me but a C or D for most other people. Nevertheless, this script from the writer of The Wrestler proves that brilliant insights about people and life can make profound movies. The script, the characters, the acting, and even all the little details like home or road jerseys are perfect here. It’s also, by the way, a wonderfully unexpected thriller.

Superficial Content: F
Drugs/Alcohol C, Sex/Nudity D, Violence C, Language F
There is one scene where Paul gets badly beaten in the beginning and one scene of strong violence in the end. An entire scene takes place in a strip club, although nudity is minimal, and there are several implied masturbations. There is constant F profanity throughout. This is definitely an R film and not for an kids. Maybe older teens could watch it.

Significant Content: A
Everyone serves an ultimate value of some sort, but not everyone is made genuinely happy by that devotion. But everyone will try to push their idol on someone else who doesn’t seem to want to participate in that system of achieving significance. Happiness comes when everything in your life is submitted to your ultimate value, especially by making significant personal sacrifices. A true friend is someone who loves you, loves what you love, and serves your love alongside you.

Artistic/Thought Value: A+
This is a film about devotion and idolatry. And it’s absolutely brilliant. Paul’s religion is the Giants. His sacrament is watching them. And his sermon is scribbling down comments to perform on the radio. The only problem is that no one around him understands the simple fact that this actually makes him happy. Really happy. He doesn’t want a wife or a career or even to live on his own. He only wants to be a Giants fan. Now, you’d think that the movie sets out to show how pathetic this is, but that’s exactly the opposite of the point. Instead, the prejudice the movie depends on is that all of us will start by viewing him just as his family does so that our own idols can be shown as no more absurd than his and maybe even more absurd since they don’t even make us happy like his does. And the variety of ways this movie accomplishes this are amazing. For instance, they follow Quantrell Bishop (their hero) to a strip club, and they sit there completely ignoring the naked women while they stare at him from across the room. When he wakes up from a coma, his first question to anyone is to ask his friend how the game Sunday went. It’s just brilliant. Plus, with regular cutaways to religious icons (rosary on the rear-view, e.g.) the idea of religious devotion, but not to God, is clearly on the director’s mind. This is an incredibly sticky movie for me, I just can’t stop thinking about all the amazing elements to it. Very reminiscent of The Wrestler with the end decision to put his life at risk to re-enter the one domain that gives him significance.

Discussion Questions:
~Identify some of the ways this movie builds the character of Paul and shows his devotion to the Giants. Name as many scenes as you can where his devotion violates what you expect from a “normal” person in his situation.
~Are Paul and Sal pathetic or beautiful? What about noble? What features of their lives would you call beautiful? What parts pathetic? Would you call any parts noble?
~Kierkegaard said that purity of the heart is to will just one thing. Would you say Paul and Sal have purity of heart? What is the one thing they want? When this purity is threatened by the lawsuit and the suspension, how do they feel? When it’s restored, how do they react? Do you have anything in your life that you are as devoted to as Paul and Sal are?
~Going through each of the other characters in the film (the sister, the brother, the mother, and the detective) identify what they idolize. When Paul refuses to sacrifice his highest good for theirs, how do they react to him? Would it be fair to say that they only want to convert him to their religion? Are their religions of any more worth than his?
~When we finally meet Philadelphia Phil, what is different between him and Paul in terms of their level of devotion? Does this make him and his behavior seem better or worse to you?
~When his brother sues on his behalf, is the brother really serving Paul or only his own goals? Can we truly be said to be acting in someone else’s best interests when that person hates what we’re doing because it violates his highest values?
~Is Sal a true friend? Why? What would a wife bring to Paul that he doesn’t already have in Sal?
~Why does this movie continually show images of Catholic religion in and around Paul’s family? What is it saying? Is this just anti-Christian bias or something else?
~In sports (and elsewhere) they say that a good player is someone who knows how to “take one for the team” when necessary. Is Paul a good player or part of the team?
~Why do you think the NFL allowed this film to be made using Giants/Jets paraphernalia? Do you think they understood the message?
~Many people will likely think this movie is a critique of being a sports fan. What do you think? Could you make the case that Paul and Sal are the only real sports fans in the movie, including everyone at the games?

Poignant or memorable scenes:
~The encounter with the detective at the diner and the end result. What do you observe about Paul immediately after this? What about on his first phone call to the radio station afterward?
~The on-air press conference late at night. What happens and why is it so devastating? Would you call his mother’s behavior here evil? What did she take away from him? Which is more awful, her unwillingness to understand her own son or her celebratory and oblivious destruction of what he holds most dear?
~The bar scene at the end. What do you expect to happen? Why are you so willing to expect that outcome?
Overall Grade: A
Honestly. I know I’m pretty much gushing about this film. Dani found it average at best, but I thought it was amazing. I may even try to get Robert Siegel on the show just because his grasp of devotion/idolatry is profound. A tiny little movie with massively important things to say. By the way, despite the terrible box office, Rotten Tomatoes has this at 88% favorable. So at least I’m not alone in loving this one.

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