Two years ago former Onion editor Robert Siegel made quite a splash with his script for the Wrestler, the story of an aging sports star coming to terms with the failures in his life. The film rode a tidal wave of goodwill thanks in huge part to Mickey Rourke's honest and heartfelt lead performance. I felt that had the film not had such an incredible portayal at its center (and to its a credit a subtle, unadorned style of direction by Darren Aronofsky) it would have easily been produced as made-for-TV fodder. Basically, the story was one we had seen a billion times, hitting the same tired notes of redemption and regret over and over again, like clockwork. Unfortunately there was nothing new at its story's center.
Shortly after the Wrestler's release I heard of Seigel's upcoming debut as a director, another story of sports obsession entitled Big Fan. The film, also scripted by Seigel, would star Patton Oswalt as a die-hard New York Giants fan whose intense love of the team is thrown out of control when he gets violently attacked by his favorite player. Now here was something that sounded pretty unique and original. I don't remember hearing a tale like that one before. Plus it's got the lovable Patton, how could you go wrong? Unfortunately, Big Fan's theatrical run was so short-lived I didn't get a chance to see it until its recent DVD release.
Well, I liked it more than the Wrestler. It definitely went in directions I wasn't quite expecting but unfortunately, for most of the film's duration, I was distracted by the uncanny similarity between its plot and actor/artist/musician Vincent Gallo's directorial debut, 1998's fantastic Buffalo '66.
Dig the particulars:
-Both films focus on sports-obsessed losers living in the state of New York.
-In both films the main character's dramatic trajectory is instigated by a wrong committed by one of their favorite team's players. (In Buffalo '66, Vincent Gallo's Billy Brown serves prison time as payment for his bookie after Scott Wood, the Bill's kicker, misses a game-winning field goal. In Big Fan, Oswalt's Paul is hospitalized after his favorite player Quantrell Bishop beats him up for following him around.)
-Both films spend large periods of time showcasing the protagonist's bitter, bickering families.
-Both films have scenes set in stripclubs.
-Both films co-star Kevin Corrigan as the protagonist's best friend.
-Both films culminate in fantastical bursts of violence.
-After two hours of depression and despair, both films end on a surprising note of hope.
To its credit, Buffalo '66 deals with much more than the bulletpoints above. It is about a lack of communication and the quest for love. It is punctuated by inventive and beautiful fantasy sequences and resonates on a deep emotional level. Big Fan on the other hand does little more than hit the notes recounted above. As the credits rolled I was struck by how thin most of it felt, the whole project seemed like more of a sketch than a finished piece. Admittedly there were some nice moments, Patton was great (Paul is the Bizarro Remy) and I honestly did not see the clever twist at the end. But all in all it felt fairly hollow to me. Which is fine.
I just hope a remake of the Brown Bunny isn't in the works.