The obsessive-on-the-verge-of-complete-breakdown is a genre on the verge of tired. As predictable as a romantic comedy, you can’t help but see every scene and go, “oh, man, things just get worse and worse for this guy…oh, that’s not gonna help his eventual mental collapse.” I mean, you KNOW where it’s going. Where’s the fun anymore?
Robert Siegel is a guy very accustomed to finding the fun in tired subjects. Most articles on The Onion, the fake news source Siegel served as editor at for seven years, basically call out some mundane activity we’re all familiar with and dissect it to the point of absurdity, and there’s the humor.
To call Big Fan fun would be sort of missing the point, and drastically incorrect. But it is far livelier than I expected, exactly the sort of shot in the arm required to make a movie with this sort of set-up. Siegel’s directorial debut (he previously wrote The Wrestler for Darren Aronofsky) is the story of a guy, Paul (Patton Oswalt), who lives for the New York Giants, far beyond the point where their victories are his victories and their losses are his. Siegel takes that personal identification common to so many things (I’ll plead guilty to it when it comes to certain directors) to the absolute extreme, to the extent that Paul is willing to sacrifice his personal well being for the sake of the team.
Siegel, wisely, never probes to figure out what makes Paul tick, but remains fascinated by watching the way the watch works. Oswalt, for his part, keeps us right along with how Siegel wants us to feel about the character without every truly injecting him with something all his own, something that would’ve been appropriate given the surprising, hidden layers within Paul.
The more I look into this film, the less I see, but it’s hard to fault a film as subversive and personal as this clearly is. While it’d be tempting to read the film as some sort of indictment of fandom, I think Siegel’s far more compelled by the lengths a person will go to, and where they choose to draw the line, in protecting something personal to them. For all his family lectures him on how pathetic his life is, it’s telling that the answers they provide – settle down, raise a family, get a career – are not the answers for everyone, and certainly don’t seem to be things that would make Paul happy. Some, like moving out of his mother’s house, probably would, but it’s exactly that nobody has the answers for even their own lives, much less the lives of those around them, that makes this film real and honest, and I wouldn’t trade that for the world.