I’ve never been a sports fan.
Whenever my dad used his executive powers to change the channel (a right he still invokes) to the UCLA game, I would pull out my Gameboy and find diversion elsewhere.
I even hate playing sports. I’ll always take the option to go suffer alone in a gym.
This distaste also carries over to sports movies. However, there are a select few that make it onto my personal favorites list. Usually, these spaces are reserved for those sports movies that aren’t really about sports, like “The Sandlot.”
2009’s “Big Fan” takes the concept a step further.
Rather than telling a story through sports, “Big Fan” is sports adjacent, which is a good thing because protagonist Paul (Patton Oswalt) is far from in shape.
He’s a short, overweight Staten Island parking attendant who loves the New York Giants. Understandably, his mother (whom he still lives with) takes issue with Paul’s mindset, and wishes that he could be like his more successful siblings.
The casting couldn’t have been better, mostly because no one says “overweight weirdo from New York” like Patton Oswalt. It’s probably his typecasting from “King of Queens,” but there’s just something about the guy that makes you think he has no life.
Paul rebuffs his mother’s criticism and his brother’s job offers because he’s happy with his life. To him, a perfect day is tailgating outside of Giants stadium with his best friend Sal (Kevin Corrigan), watching the game on his portable TV (he can’t afford tickets), and staying up late at night calling local sports radio shows with pro-Giants rants.
But one day, Paul is forced to deal with the immediate consequences of his obsessions when he and Sal spot their favorite player, Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm), at a gas station and follow him to a nightclub in Manhattan.
When the two finally work up the courage to talk to Quantrell, Paul accidentally mentions they saw him in Stapleton. An enraged and intoxicated Quantrell then beats Paul within an inch of his life for “stalking.”
This altercation earns Paul a few serious injuries and Quantrell a suspension until further notice.
While an average person would undoubtedly go for the one-two punch of an assault charge and a civil suit, Paul is the titular “big fan,” so he decides to let things slide. He even refuses to talk to the police in hopes that the case will be dropped and Quantrell’s suspension lifted.
It’s at this point in the film that we understand what kind of person Paul really is.
We always knew that football was a part of Paul’s life, but it’s only towards the film’s end that we see it is his whole life. He’s so in love with his team that he’s willing to take a savage beating and not press charges for its greater good.
The viewer’s knee-jerk reaction is to pity Paul and recoil at his fanaticism. We almost automatically assume that a person whose only goal in life is to be the number-one Giants fan has to be filling some kind of void.
But therein lies the beauty of “Big Fan.”
What could have been a boring movie-with-a-moral about the dangers of obsession is instead a film about enjoying life.
Much like his family, we as an audience have been assuming that because Paul has failed at achieving what we define as happiness, he is unhappy.
The truth, however, is much simpler.
Paul is a pitiful human being. He will never have a house, a family or success by any meaning of the word, but that’s okay. “Big Fan” says that if you’re happy, then that’s as successful as you need to be.
Or at least that’s what I’ll tell my mom when she complains that I play too many videogames.