Big Fan: An Image of the Consequences of Sports Obsession
The obsessive sports fan film isn’t uncommon. However, most feature protagonists in this sub-genre are bathed in glossy images that hide the uglier side of their delusions of grandeur.
In Fever Pitch, Ben (Jimmy Fallon) has such an intense obsession with the Boston Red Sox, he insists on seeing all 162 regular season games either at Fenway Park or on TV. However, this obsession seems less like a serious problem than a major dude-quirk glossed by Ben’s appealing countenance and classroom friendly demeanor; also his attractive, unusually accepting finance guru girlfriend, Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore). In fact, Ben’s obsession with Red Sox nation lends to him a boyish innocence which Meeks, and the audience, find sweet and charming.
This kind of blissful, cosmopolitan, white collar co-existence contributes largely toward marginalizing Ben’s obsessive behavior. There’s a foregone conclusion that despite Ben’s intensely self-involved desire for a long-term relationship within the uninterrupted context of his Boston Red Sox game schedule, he and Lindsey are too perfect a couple not to be together at the end of the film.
In the somewhat more serious Silver Linings Playbook, Pat Sr. (Robert Dinero in a major supporting role) is an obsessive compulsive bookie and high stakes sports gambler who requires that his living room furniture, remote control, and guests be positioned in an exact scheme on Sundays while his wife (Jackie Weaver) toils in the kitchen over “crabby snacks.”
Pat Sr. is teetering on degeneracy, but once again, his obsessions are captured as a quirk nestled in an otherwise perfectly nice suburban home, and blanketed by a family of characters who have their own mental issues (those which the film only lightly threads).
Leading this cast are the film’s two attractive leads, Pat Jr. (Bradley Cooper) and Tiffany (Jennifer Lawrence). Notably, that Pat is seen throughout half the film wearing a Philadelphia Eagles jersey serves as a celebration of Eagles Nation and Sunday football. Bradley Cooper in a football jersey may as well be a commercial for NFL Gameday, and it effectively compartmentalizes as a mere plot consideration Pat Sr.’s obsessive degenerate sports betting.
Unlike Ben or Pat, Big Fan’s Paul Aufiero (Patrick Oswalt) is a flabby, 5'3", 36-year-old schlep whose Giants jersey fits him like over-sized pajamas. He works at a parking toll booth, has no romantic possibilities, and still lives with his mother in his childhood bedroom — one adorned with more Giants football posters than even a high school sports geek would think is cool. Paul’s one good friend, Sal (Kevin Corrigan) only exacerbates his obsession. Sal is not a glossily handsome savior who is going to help Paul get his life together. Rather, he’s a lanky, unkempt, slow-witted mid-30s hermit who idolizes Paul’s every comment about the Giants and doesn’t talk to him about anything else.
By keeping the camera on Paul during just about every scene in the film, Big Fan hammers home the reality that he is just an average man living a life of mediocre routines. There is no magical escape for Paul: his insistence on being a super fan doesn’t open the film’s visual spectrum to a Giants victoryon the field, or maybe Paul’s own radio show.
Quite the contrary, Paul is suspended from scene to scene in closed, suffocating spaces; he’s always the “Big Fan” ruling over the margins of society. When he and Sal go to Giants stadium — a trip which they plan with a familiar argot that infers routine — they watch the game through a portable TV in the stadium parking lot. Given that Paul lives with his mother and has a job, it’s fair to argue that he could shell some cash to purchase a nose bleed seat. But Paul doesn’t want to be just another digit among 60,000 other fans. He wants to be the Giants chief authority and voice, and that illusion works better in an empty stadium parking lot.
To some degree, Paul’s strikingly diminutive countenance may feel like a bit of a cop out. He may seem so “Other” that he can’t possibly be representative of your typical “big fan.” But stripped of muscle, material possessions, professional responsibility, and all other readily accepted ordered structures, just how different from Paul is a 24/7 sports culture that already spends countless hours on Fantasy Sports over computer screens and even smaller portable media?
The answer is a whole lot, and maybe not that much at all.