Big Fan

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big fan
Comedian Patton Oswalt shows he has some serious acting chops.

Writer/director Robert Siegel is taking over the sport I had in my heart for Ron Shelton. He was my favorite writer of sports movies. He wrote the underrated The Best of Times, and followed it with Bull Durham, White Men Can’t Jump, Blue Chips, Cobb, The Great White Hype, and Tin Cup. He then gave us Bad Boys II and Play it to the Bone – so I’m handing the trophy to Siegel now.

Siegel is now 2 for 2. He wrote The Wrestler, which was an amazing film on that bizarre sport. Now we get the movie based on a sports radio nut.

I listen to a lot of sports radio, and most of the shows are obnoxious (I’m talking about you Jim Rome). Yet I love sports and play fantasy football – so I keep listening.

The hardcore sports fan is a different breed. I was a Lakers fan, and when they lost a championship one year, I had tears in my eyes as I walked away from the TV.

I’ve seen fist fights start on the basketball courts and sports bars, over arguments about which team was better. It gets heated among fans (which remember, is short for “fanatic”).

What Siegel did in this film that was so interesting is creating a pathetic protagonist, that’s also rather insightful. How it is we sympathy for him is beyond me, but we do.

Casting one of the best stand-up comedians around, Patton Oswalt, was an interesting choice. His doughy face is just perfect as a hardcore fan in his mid-30s living with his mom. He works a job as a parking garage attendant. He’s not the most ambitious guy in the world, and sitting in a box collecting money from cars is fine with him. He can listen to his favorite sports show and write things to say when he calls in. What bothers me about his “takes” on various sports topics, is one of the few minor flaws in the movie. I think they should’ve been a bit more clever and humorous.

Oswalt ends up meeting his match (figuratively) in a caller named Philadelphia Phil (the easily recognizable voice of Michael Rapaport). He has been getting the best of him lately, mostly because the New York Giants have been on a losing streak.

The one friend he has is Sal (Kevin Corrigan). We get the feeling he’s not the brightest guy, and he thinks the world of Oswalt and his takes, not realizing they have been well-scripted in advance.

It’s amusing to see witness how these two feel such a kinship with the team. Sports fans that wear jerseys often hear lines like “You aren’t Philip Rivers” if it’s that Charger jersey you have on. If you were to put your last name on the jersey, you might hear “You aren’t on the team!”

It’s why I always stuck to Lakers T-shirts instead of a Magic Johnson jersey, even though he was my favorite player. I was such a big fan that when he did a book signing when I was a teenager, I drove to L.A. to meet him. My car got towed and ticketed, and I still treasured the experience (I spoke with him for exactly 8 seconds before he signed my book and security told me to “move along”).

It’s also unusual to see what is basically a sports movie, that is free of clichés. Even when we slowly realize how pathetic these two friends are – which is highlighted by a trip to an actual Giants game – where we see they can’t even afford to get in. They’re just content to be in the parking lot with others like them that are tailgating. They sit in the cold watching the game from a TV in the parking lot.

When Oswalt calls into the sports talk shows and his mom gets mad at the noise and ruckus, you can’t help but think of Robert De Niro recording his comedy routines in the basement in King of Comedy.

He and his mom have fights that are both funny and painful. It’s a bad relationship that seems very authentic.

I don’t want to ruin anything that will add to your experience of watching some of these things unfold the way they do, but I’ll tell you one other side story. The guys get to meet Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm). He’s the best player on the Giants, and they contemplate how they can properly introduce themselves at the swanky strip club.

Another example of the sharp writing/directing comes in the form of Oswalt’s brother. He’s the muscular, good looking older sibling that’s a successful lawyer. He’s got the attractive wife with a boob job, and you can just tell he was probably the type that picked on the smaller little brother when they were kids.

I’m guessing any hardcore sports fans that watch this movie won’t see themselves in these characters. The illusions of grandeur that Oswalt has will be lost on them.

This is an indie movie that I really hope makes some money. You don’t have to be a sports fan to enjoy it. We all know people like these characters, including Quantrell Bishop. There are many Charger players (past and present), that have been in similar situations.

The weirdest thing was meeting Patton Oswalt after one of his comedy shows at the Improv in Irvine. I was telling him how great he was in this movie, while a woman was begging him for a photo. He had a fever, but was super accommodating. As I walked away I thought – I was just acting like a big fan and he was the Quantrell Bishop. Instead of a football field, he was a master on the stage with a microphone and brick wall.

This movie gets an A-.

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