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Big Fan: The Dark Side of Frantic Obsession
What is it about comedians giving stellar performances? Is it because it goes against our expectations, or maybe because no one understands the strains of life better than the ones who get the joke?
Paul (Oswalt) is the biggest fan of the New York Giants. Between an imminent midlife crisis and a dead-end security job, the Giants’ fandom is Paul’s only excuse for a calling. His family endlessly nags him about his lack of ambition. His mother, who still puts a roof over his head, is annoyed about his daily calls to his favourite radio sports show, and both his siblings beg him to procure a better job. However, none of them can get through to him, because none of them understand how comforting and consuming an obsession can be; it’s the drug of choice for the marginalized.
The film’s director, Robert Siegel also penned the script to 2008’s Wrestler, where Mickey Rourke sacrifices himself for the sake of his legacy. In Big Fan, Paul’s devotion endures a test of purity when the Giants’ star player physically violates him, and subsequently, a chain of events leads to the team falling behind in the season. Again, the main character has to choose between himself and his identity; a dilemma that forces him to confront what he has been escaping from all his life. Big Fan doesn’t hold back on showing us the ugly truth.
Fandom imbues its comrades with a sense of self-importance, and at first, Big Fan makes light of the sentiment. By midpoint, the film shifts gear from observing Paul and his vapid passion to sharing the world from his perspective. Paul is served right by Oswalt’s comic talents. A huge comic book geek himself, the actor is no stranger to the subject of fan obsession. And while it may be true that he’s playing a self-aggrandised version of himself; that doesn’t make any less impressive the talent and stamina that he brings to the film.
Siegel’s directing debut finds him without a clear voice. More of a passion project, Big Fan proves how big of a role Darren Aronofsky played in turning the wrestler into a twenty-first century Christ figure. Despite the lack of a strong vision, Big Fan still manages to capture truth in a challenging way.
She wakes up from her coma to a husband who she doesn’t remember and parents who are overjoyed that she’s forgotten about their dispute. While Paige’s parents try to bring her back to the way of life that she’d rebelled against, Leo tries to help her remember why she’d left all that behind in the first place. Fighting for a wife who doesn’t remember him and is a completely different person than the one he knew, Leo tries to get her to fall in love with him again.
The film rarely gets unbearably cheesy, setting it apart from your run of the mill Sparks adaptation. It gets mushy, emotional and sappy, but it’s more likely to make you smile than roll your eyes. Leo’s pain and heartbreak combined with Paige’s family’s delight at having their daughter back, gives the film a level of grit that keeps it from becoming overly cloying. However, the secret of the film’s success is the leads, who have great chemistry and manage to pass off some of the cheesiness as bearable.
Often described as ‘the new Woody Allen’, writer-director Noah Baumbach – who made his film debut with Kicking and Screaming back in 1995 at the tender age of twenty-four – returns to the big screen with a distinctive dose of panache in the intelligent and witty cross-generation comedy, While We’re Young.
Like so many indie, coming-of-age films, Baumbach’s latest production asks the impossible-to-answer questions in this game called life. Set in Brooklyn, New York, the story is centred on forty-something year-old married couple, Josh (Stiller) and Cornelia (Watts), whose entire childless existence is brought into question when close friends Marina (Dizzia) and Fletcher (Horovitz) become parents for the first time. Forced to ask themselves some big life questions, the anxieties of being stuck in a rut, growing old and Josh not being able to finish his latest documentary project, are soon taken to another level when they meet a so-hip-it-hurts young couple, Jamie (Driver) and Darby (Seyfried). Charmed by their much-younger friends, Josh and Cornelia soon begin exploring and embracing their quirky life.
Written and directed by Baumbach himself, it’s definitely not the most even and balanced of pictures, though its honest and humorous look at the challenges of getting old proves to be a premise worth exploring. The funny and the not-so-funny differences between the two generations is portrayed with a mix of humour and sombre realism and it’s definitely not hard to spot a bit of Woody Allen-influence in the way the dialogue progresses.
As far as the performances go, Stiller is easy to root for and his portrayal of a middle-aged documentarian struggling to make sense of his existence is funny and relatable. Meanwhile, Watts, Driver and Seyfried are superb and the onscreen chemistry between all four is evident throughout.
While We’re Young is one of those ambiguous indie-darling films that the critics have raved about, but audiences have been much more hesitant about – the old adage that we fear what we don't understand is just as true in the world of film. The plot is engaging and welcomingly simple, though there is a sense that Baumbach doesn’t really have a clear idea where he wants the story go. But there’s something endearing about its misguided and muddled nature that serves to be a perfect reflection on its equally disorientated characters.