Two Dramas from First Independent
Big Fan (November 26/09)
Robert Siegel's directorial debut, Big Fan follows ardent New York Giants enthusiast Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt) as his already-pathetic life takes a turn for the worse after an unfortunate run-in with one of his football heroes (Jonathan Hamm's Quantrell Bishop). It's clear almost instantly that Siegel is going for the vibe of a low-key character study, as the movie boasts a rough visual sensibility that's mirrored in both the performances and the meandering narrative - with the latter ensuring that Big Fan ultimately comes off as a watchable yet undeniably uneven piece of work. There's little doubt, however, that the film benefits substantially from Oswalt's eye-opening and downright engrossing turn as the increasingly obsessive protagonist, although it's just as clear that the atmosphere of gritty realism is perpetuated by an impressively off-kilter supporting cast that includes Kevin Corrigan, Marcia Jean Kurtz, and Michael Rapaport. The subdued (read: plotless) nature of Siegel's screenplay ensures that certain stretches have a more positive effective on the viewer than others, with the midsection suffering from a palpable lull that persists right up until around the one-hour mark - after which point Siegel offers up an unexpected twist that effectively carries the proceedings through to its downbeat conclusion. The end result is a passable first film that ultimately conquers its various problems (ie what's up with those arty cut-aways?) to become an authentic look at an unhinged superfan, with Oswalt's revelatory work undoubtedly standing as Big Fan's most overtly laudable attribute.
The Great New Wonderful (November 27/09)
Though suffused with a number of undeniably impressive performances, The Great New Wonderful boasts a pervasively aimless atmosphere that slowly but surely wears the viewer down and ensures that the film's overtly positive elements are ultimately rendered moot. The movie follows several unrelated characters over the course of a few uneventful days, as, for example, a couple (Thomas McCarthy's David and Judy Greer's Allison) attempt to cope with their unruly son, a cake-maker (Maggie Gyllenhaal's Emme) deals with a suicidal colleague (Edie Falco's Safarah), and two bodyguards (Naseeruddin Shah's Avi and Sharat Saxena's Satish) engage in a series of pointless conversations while protecting a visiting dignitary. It goes without saying that The Great New Wonderful fares best in its opening half hour, as the uniformly impressive performances - coupled with the spot-the-familiar-face vibe (ie Stephen Colbert, Will Arnett, and Ari Graynor pop up in small roles) - prove instrumental in compensating for the seemingly inconsequential nature of the film's various storylines. And while the subplot revolving around a sad old woman (Olympia Dukakis' Judy) is actually quite moving, there inevitably reaches a point at which screenwriter Sam Catlin's aggressively pointless modus operandi becomes awfully tough to stomach - with the emotional resonance of the movie's final stretch subsequently undermined by the script's meandering sensibilities. The random atmosphere - which is never more evident than in the scenes detailing a psychiatrist's (Tony Shalhoub's Dr. Trabulous) efforts at cracking the affable shell of a bland executive (Jim Gaffigan's Sandie) - unfortunately cements The Great New Wonderful's place as an intriguing yet misguided piece of work, as it's impossible to walk away from the movie without wondering just what the filmmakers originally set out to accomplish.