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I hate to say this. It PAINS me to say this, but the worst part about Big Fan is the casting of Patton Oswalt. That isn’t to say that his performance is poor or in anyway lacking. Oswalt holds his own in almost every context of the film, which I’ll get to soon.

No, it’s the fact that he sounds like a clean, intelligent square peg being shoved into a greasy, stupid round hole. It’s hard to buy him as a football fan of the intensity he portrays. Oswalt never sounds comfortable with the terminology, which comes across as nervousness while he gives the on-air rants that he meticulously vets during the dull hours of his menial parking garage job. But when talking with his friend, Sal, it just seems forced where it should flow naturally. And it isn’t hard to buy him as an aging man-child living in a room that hasn’t changed much since he was prepubescent. The scenes filmed in his bedroom have a frozen-in-preadolescence feel to them, from the mother yelling from the next room to the sad masturbation to the erotically framed poster of his hero, player Quantrell James.

I can even understand the casting of Oswalt as a depressed, obsessive fan, being a longtime admirer of his standup career. The biggest problem is the intelligence that Oswalt can’t seem to suppress in his character. He seems like he should be smart enough to be able to pull himself out of the life he’s sunken into. He’s clearly smarter than his lawyer brother but less respected in his family because he makes no money. And while the rest of his world is very clearly Staten Island born and bred, Oswalt seems transplanted from somewhere more middle-American, somewhere where spray on tans and the largest breasts money can buy might not necessarily be the status symbols they are presented as here.

The rest of the details are sharply skewering enough to make the film appear to be the comedy it has been labeled before it takes such a dramatic turn. The entirety of the scene introducing his brother’s family is the highlight of the film, from the 7 year old’s birthday cake to the wife’s appearance to the fantastic commercial premiered during the party. The remaining cast captures the sort of stereotypes on display while adding more layers to them, especially Kevin Corrigan’s Sal, the friend who actually admires Paul for his livid rants on sports talk radio, so far down is he in life.

Where Oswalt does really come alive as Paul is past this part of the film, after his tragic encounter with his football hero. In these scenes, hounded by police, press, greedy family, depression and struggling with feelings of betrayal both of his hero against him and himself against his team, from which Paul derives nearly his entire identity, Oswalt captures all of this and makes Paul’s dilemma incredibly real. His inability to make a commitment to anything but his team, the only sense of family that’s real to him, costs him everything. The climax of the film is harrowing right up to its brilliant conclusion where the comedy of the film is reestablished, ending on the perfect note of hope in hopelessness. 4 stars

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