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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.
Many would be surprised to learn that the man behind the lens of this joyous and incredibly charming British musical-drama – about a group of retired musicians reliving their glory days in an idyllic setting of a country-side retirement home – is in fact the one and only Mr. Dustin Hoffman.
So, does the Oscar-winning actor have what it takes as a director? Absolutely.
The story of Quartet takes place in Beecham House; an opulent retirement home for gifted musicians, who are busy getting themselves ready for a gala benefit concert which will fund their home and keep it from closing. Housing some of the most respected and celebrated violinists, pianists and opera singers in the business, the tranquil country-side setting is home to an abundance of egos and theatrics.
Amongst the retired opera-singers, there is Wilfred (Connolly); a skirt-chasing Romeo who keeps himself busy by coming on to anything that moves. The forgetful and soulful Cissy (Collins), who is experiencing the early stages of dementia and then there is Reggie (Courtenay); a stern and serious-looking vocalist who wishes for nothing more than ‘dignified senility’.
Their amiable and agreeable routine is soon interrupted by the abrupt arrival of Reggie’s ex-wife, Jean (Smith); a snappy and touchy diva who was once a part of who still hasn’t come to terms with the reality of ageing. The once renowned soloist is finding it hard to fit in the chirpiness of her new surroundings and is still longing for the good old days.
She’s soon forced out of her shell when her trio of long-lost friends suggest a reunion of their quartet to perform at the gala concert. However, the task is not so easy and with time running out, Jean’s temper and clashes with Reggie threaten to derail the event.
Quartet marks the first completed directorial debut for Hoffman, who previously dabbled in some behind-the-camera work in 1978’s Straight Time, before it was abandoned. At seventy-five years of age, though, Hoffman has radiantly demonstrated his directorial skills.
Written for a stage-play and later adapted to the screen by Ronald Howard, the story is pretty straightforward and never feels too boxed-in – given that most of the story plays out in the confinement of the retirement home. Quartet is easy-going, fun and extremely laid-back, managing to escape the darkness and seriousness that often accompanies the principle of sickness and aging.
Connolly is a real hoot as the randy Wilfred, providing much of the comic-relief, while Collins and Courtenay devoured their roles with cleverness and class. Gambon, who plays the controlling and eccentric conductor, is absolutely infectious and Smith, whose presence in this production provides the much-needed weightiness, stands in a class of her own.
On the whole, Quartet is polished and manages to deliver cheeky laughs with great ease. We definitely hope to see more of Hoffman who – after almost five decades in the business – finally shows that he is just as great behind the camera as he is in front of it.