Sundance: We Review Patton Oswalt’s New Sports Comedy ‘Big Fan’

Sunday night at Park City’s “Racquet Club” theater saw a different kind of game going down – a twisted, frequently hilarious, wholly original sports-fanatic flick called “Big Fan.”

By the end of the screening, the reaction made it clear that much of the audience could apply the film’s title to themselves.

In his pre-movie comments, red-hot “The Wrestler” writer Robert Siegel made a request of the audience that undoubtedly set a precedent for a debut director at Sundance: He asked the audience to monitor the Steelers score on their cell phones, and shout out when they won.

The greatest compliment may have been that you never heard a peep.

From its opening shot, “Big Fan” (or as star Patton Oswalt calls it: “Fatsy Driver”) cast a spell over the crowd. The film follows a fat, thirty-something loser who lives with his mom, works at a rat-infested parking garage – and finds his only moments of solace in his beloved New York Giants.

But when a chance encounter with the team’s star quarterback has the Giants’ biggest fan getting beaten within an inch of his life by his hero, what does that do to a man’s psyche?

From there, the film goes on a wild, unpredictable ride I wouldn’t dare spoil. The mix of veterans like Oswalt and Michael Rapaport with newcomers like Serafina Fiore and Gino Cafarelli (who Siegel found on YouTube when he typed in “Goombah”) make for the perfect mix of professionalism and reality.

The only real complaint I had with the film is a few minor things, like why Oswalt’s Paul would risk his mother picking up the house phone during all-important calls to radio talk shows, when we see that he has a cell. I also noticed several people walking out during a same slow patch when Paul tries to go back to normal life after the beating; if they ever see the film again, they’ll likely wish they had stuck around for the next unexpected plot shift that got things back on track.

Siegel’s shots are dirty, his dialogue sharp, and his knack for avoiding cliches is rare. Oswalt’s performance is a selfless, measured descent into madness that deserves some sort of award – if only for being as funny, sad and deadly-serious as any actor could ever pull off simultaneously.

If you love sports, you’ll love “Big Fan.” If you love Scorsese, Apatow, indie flicks or dumb comedies, you’ll love “Big Fan.” Quite simply, if you love movies, you’ll love “Big Fan.” And isn’t that what Sundance is all about?