Thursday, January 14, 2010
Nog and Big Fan
Robert Siegel's directorial debut (he recently wrote The Wrestler) is very dark, very funny, and maybe most of all, very sad. Patton Oswalt, the super-sharp stand-up comedian, plays Paul, a tollbooth operator who spends his days at work composing and practicing praises to the New York Giants which he later reads on a late-night sports-talk radio program (calling from his bedroom in a house he shares with his mother). During those few minutes on the show, Paul is well-known and well-liked: he becomes "Paul from Staten Island," a devoted, unfailingly optimistic Giants fan. During the rest of his life, he's just a lonely single guy whose life revolves around studying the team and their games, which he and his friend Sal watch on a small television outside the stadium (presumably they cannot afford tickets, yet find the proximity of the team and stadium essential: it's their version of a religious pilgrimage to the temple). The film's plot is set in motion when Paul and Sal happen to spot the Giants' quarterback in their neighborhood and creepily tail him to a strip club, where their starstruck effort to meet him turns into a scuffle that ends up having a huge bearing on the Giants' season and turns "Paul from Staten Island" into persona non grata among the Giants' faithful after his role in the scuffle is exposed on-air by "Philadelphia Phil," a similarly obsessive Eagles fan. The last act involves a real-life meeting at a bar between an increasingly-desperate Paul and his now arch-rival, Phil: it's a wonderfully played scene where the film could spin in any number of different directions but then chooses one you may not expect but yet, the more I reflect, is perfectly true to its characters. Siegel, in a Q & A DVD commentary, says his film was largely inspired by great "New York films" such as Saturday Night Fever and The Pope of Greenwich Village, and there's certainly a bit of Scorsese's Taxi Driver and King of Comedy as well, albeit with none of the visual flair. Oswalt, in the same Q & A, speaks of drawing on his real-life obsessions with comics to channel Paul's obsessive love of the Giants, but he isn't just playing a version of himself here: it's a real performance. This isn't a masterpiece, by any means, but these two men have combined to produce a small dark gem, and one of the most unusual "sports" films you'll see.