|Patton Oswalt||Paul Aufiero|
|Marcia Jean Kurtz||Teresa|
|Jonathan Hamm||Quantrell Bishop|
|Directed by||Robert Siegel|
Paul Aufiero (stand-up comic Patton Oswalt) is a legend in his own mind, a star in his very limited universe. That universe revolves around the New York Giants football team. It includes Paul, his best friend Sal (Kevin Korrigan), and The Zone, a New York sports talk radio show to which Paul is a regular caller identified as "Paul from Staten Island." It includes his nemesis, Philadelphia Phil (Michael Rapaport), a Giant-taunting Eagles fan who is another frequent caller to The Zone. It includes the crowds at Giants Stadium, where Paul and Sal tailgate before home games with the ticket holders, and then watch on a portable TV in the parking lot while the roars spill over the stadium walls. And that's about it.
Peopling his universe, but not part of it, are his brother Jeff (Gino Cafarelli), a personal-injury lawyer with his own TV ad; Jeff's trophy wife Gina (played with big-bosomed éclat by Manhattan strip club manager Serafina Fiore); and Paul's mother Theresa (Marcia Jean Kurtz). Paul suffers his family, but grudgingly. He has little privacy, he lives with his mother, who shouts at him through the wall to pipe down when he is making his late-night calls to The Zone. She rags him constantly to find a wife, to settle down (and move out) like his bother and sister. But Paul finds nothing lacking in his life. "I don't want what they've got," he snaps.
Such are the problems of a doughy 35-year-old schlump still living at home in a house with thin walls. But for Paul these are irrelevant irritants, flies on an elephant's rump. Paul works as a cashier in an underground parking lot where, when he is not being interrupted by motorists entering and leaving, he spends his time crafting the sarcastic, bombastic screeds he will deliver when he gets off work at midnight and calls in to Sports Dogg, the host of The Zone. He writes these out on a legal pad, scratching out and editing and rehearsing with passionate intensity, so that when he calls Sports Dogg he can rattle his comments off as improvised arias of jingoistic Giant superfandom. Somewhere in Staten Island in his own narrow bed, Sal listens to his friend on the radio with a slack-jawed smile of wondering hero-worship.
One night at a filling station, a supernova explodes into Paul's universe and turns it inside out. There at a nearby pump is Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm), the Lawrence Taylor-esque All-Pro linebacker of the high-flying Giants. Star-struck, Paul and Sal follow QB's limo through the neighborhood streets, watch while he stops at a seedy house, and finally tail him into Manhattan, which for the Staten Islanders is an exotic foreign land where there aren’t any parking places. QB and his entourage go into a strip club (HeadQuarters, Fiore's place, which was a stop for real life Giants' receiver Plaxico Burress on the ill-fated night when he accidentally shot himself in the leg and derailed his All-Pro career.)
Paul and Sal follow them in, and finally work up the courage to approach their hero. At first the Giant star is mockingly genial, but when Paul blurts that they've followed him from the gas station, QB goes ballistic, taking them for narcs, and beats Paul so savagely that he wakes up three days later in the hospital.
QB is suspended by the Giants, and the team goes into a late-season tailspin. The cops investigate, but Paul won't cooperate. Like an Old Testament victim of Jehovah's capricious wrath, he still believes, he still worships, and he won't do anything to aid the case against his deity. He uses the Reagan defense: "I don't recall." He wants no consequences, if consequences could hurt his team.
Meanwhile, the Giants are stumbling toward a season-finale showdown with the hated Eagles, and Paul, buffeted by the winds of obsession and destiny, is being drawn toward a fateful showdown of his own.
Writer-director Robert D. Siegel grew up listening to callers like Paul on The FAN, New York City's all-sports radio, and he gives us a bizarrely sympathetic portrait of a guy who is as devout and as obsessive as any religious fanatic. Siegel, who wrote the screenplay for another fringe sports tale, Mickey Rourke's comeback vehicle The Wrestler, here directs for the first time, and manages to avoid some of that earlier movie's traps of cliché and sentimentality.
Like any true fan, Siegel understands that sports is a metaphor for all sorts of things, but as much as anything it is a metaphor for renewal. Our heroes can tease us, exhilarate us, and then dash us with a negligent cruelty as devastating as any that the most desperate love can inflict. But we come back again and again for more. A new season means new hope, time to forgive and forget and love again.
Wait till next year.
© Text 2009 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be