BIG FAN and the real blood sports both on and off the field

After Washington Redskins wide receiver Josh Morgan committed a penalty that may have cost his team a recent game, he received death threats on Twitter. Who would be crazy enough to do such a thing?

Meet Paul Auferio (Patton Oswalt), a 36-year-old schlub who works at a dead-end day job and spends his nights calling in to a sports-radio station to proclaim his undying love for the New York Giants — and his murderous hate for the divisional rival Philadelphia Eagles. He’s the tragic title character in the super-dark comedy BIG FAN (airing tomorrow night at 8P on Sundance Channel).

As fan-on-fan violence increases in American stadiums (and parking lots and restrooms), writer-director Robert D. Siegel’s 2009 Sundance Film Festival hit becomes ever more relevant. And as economic conditions in America continue to stagnate — and a sense of community keeps crumbling — frustrated men of a certain age increasingly find themselves divided into tribes based on their favorite teams. How else would you explain overgrown men-children putting on ill-fitting jerseys and painting their faces on any given Sunday?

Oswalt locates the sadness and anger that drive Paul to the brink of insanity. Randomly spotting his favorite player, Quantrell “QB” Bishop (Jonathan Hamm, not to be confused with Jon Hamm), at a gas station, Paul and his socially challenged pal, Sal (Kevin Corrigan), follow him to a strip club, where a violent confrontation ensues. Siegel, who previously explored the dark side of pro athletics in his script for Mickey Rourke’s THE WRESTLER, goes for the goal line between die-hard sports nuts and deadly psychopaths.

This topic has been explored before, by everyone from Martin Scorsese (in TAXI DRIVER and THE KING OF COMEDY) to the late Tony Scott (in THE FAN). But Siegel’s not afraid to name real names, and not just of teams; real-life Giants like wide receiver Ahmad Bradshaw and hot-tempered head coach Tom Coughlin get referenced in the script. In an eerie bit of foreshadowing, BIG FAN was shot shortly before Big Blue wide-out Plaxico Burress accidentally shot himself in the leg when the gun he carried into a nightclub discharged in his pants. (As a result, he shot his career in the foot; he spent 20 months in prison.)

A brilliant standup comedian who’s become a surprisingly subtle actor, Oswalt puts a more melancholy spin on Spence, the character he played on the underrated sitcom THE KING OF QUEENS. Like Spence, Paul works alone, underground (he’s a Staten Island hospital parking-lot attendant instead of a subway token clerk), and lives with his mother (here, she’s played by the great character actress Marcia Jean Kurtz, a favorite of Sidney Lumet’s and Darren Aronofsky’s). And you can imagine Paul had some of the same scarring high-school experiences as Matt Freuhauf, the physically and emotionally crippled character Oswalt played to deserved acclaim (and considerable Oscar buzz) in last year’s YOUNG ADULT.

When Paul ultimately goes undercover in enemy territory, stalking his talk-radio arch-rival “Philadelphia Phil” (Michael Rapaport) at a City of Brotherly Love sports bar, BIG FAN delivers its message with bone-shattering impact: You can’t spell “fanatic” without “F-A-N.”

Photo credit: IMDb