Dark comedy is defined in “Big Fan”

Dark comedy… it’s a phrase that’s lost a bit of its luster for me – and not because there aren’t a lot of great films coming out in this genre. It’s just because everyone seems to be calling their light comedy film a “dark” comedy in an attempt to escape the readily available, generic label of just being “comedy.”

I know it’s a really cliché hipster move to stop liking things as soon as they get popular, but I still stand by it (and I don’t have a handlebar moustache if you’re feeling skeptical. I don’t even wear glasses even though my eyes are terrible!).

However, when I found out that there was a film called “Big Fan” within this “forbidden genre” that starred “that guy who played the nerdy dude in ‘King of Queens’” and was directed by “that other dude who wrote ‘The Wrestler,’” I was intrigued.

The film stars stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt and was written and directed by Robert D. Siegel. It follows the life of Oswalt’s character, Paul Aufiero, a 36-year-old Staten Island resident and obsessive fan of the New York Giants.

To begin, the cinematography is phenomenal – it’s not too much and it’s not too little. The dark, rustic lighting style as well as the warm color tones used throughout much of the film’s interior scenes compliment the context of the story and make a perfect fit for the subject matter.

I was also pleasantly surprised that this film didn’t go for the “pseudo-documentary” video style that’s all-the-rage right now. A free-handed camera style would have distracted from the film’s content rather than added to it. Although, this approach worked wonderfully for the British comedy film, “In the Loop”.

But as much as I’d love to nerd out on the aesthetic qualities of the film, it was the story itself and Oswalt’s performance that really brought it home for me – and for one very fundamental reason. The fact that a stand-up comedian like Oswalt was chosen as the lead, absolutely makes the film a cut above.

Siegel’s decision to cast Oswalt for the character of Paul may have been intentional or accidental, but it makes it so much more compelling because no performer understands the tender, delicate art form of self-deprecating humor better than a stand-up comedian.

This is one of the most tried-and-true ways a comedian establishes his ethos with an audience. By tearing himself down and degrading his own personhood on stage, a comedian lets the audience know that he is on their level, not above them. It also implies that he’s an equal opportunity offender who will take shots at any subject, including himself.

Although Patton Oswalt is a master of this craft when it comes to his on-stage comedy routine, he’s not in front of an audience this time – he’s playing a character in a film. So, the fact that he’s embodying this sad sack for the screen means that he’s not doing it for laughs – he just is that character. And that’s what makes it kind of sad.

Paul Aufiero is a loser in every sense of the word. He’s in his mid-thirties but still lives with his mother (presumably because he has no desire to move out) and he works as a parking garage attendant. The only pleasure he has in life, and it truly is the only one, is following the New York Giants during football season.

He seems to be holding on to his lackluster job simply because he wants to listen to sports talk radio all day and keep up with the Giants even while he’s at work. And, it’s made abundantly clear throughout the film that this obsession is exactly what’s keeping him from obtaining a semblance of a life.

But then the obsession goes a little too far. The story’s inciting incident hits the viewer harder than a defensive lineman sacking a quarterback. After Paul spots his idol, the Giants’ star player, Quantrell Bishop, he finds himself in an unforeseen predicament. After a verbal misunderstanding, Bishop actually assaults Paul and leaves him in the hospital.

How this conflict is resolved turns out to be an absolutely unpredictable journey for our anti-hero. The ending will definitely come as a complete shock for even the most film-savvy movie-goer.

Just like the cinematography, the ending in Siegel’s screenplay is not too much and not too little. This is definitely a film for Goldilocks because everything is “just right.” It’s a great twist without requiring anyone to suspend their disbelief, and anyone following Oswalt’s character could easily see him going the lengths he goes to in order to make his point.

Most importantly, it doesn’t go for that post-modern, ambiguous ending approach. You know exactly how it comes to a satisfactory conclusion and the viewer realizes that Paul hasn’t learned much at all; even after all he’s been through.

So, for a film that is saturated with a fair amount of overused conventions, this one completely blows all those clichés out of the water. It’s definitely proof that a great pair-up, like writer Robert Siegel and comedian Patton Oswalt, can make some movie magic in just the right way.

To conclude, remember how apprehensive I was about the word “dark comedy” at the beginning? It’s that same feeling I get when a group of macho dudes start yelling at the kid with the Slayer t-shirt and telling him how “totally into hardcore metal” they are. Let’s face it folks, when Slayer has begun to lose their luster, we’re in a world of trouble.