After an uneven outing as writer in The Wrestler (cross-reference below), Robert D. Siegel finally gets his knockout punch in this tale of blind devotion fuelling a miserable life.
The script is very nearly note perfect, only lacking some sort of overture from Giants’ running back Quantrell Bishop (Jonathan Hamm) or his “people” after Paul Aufiero (Patton Oswalt is ideally cast as the overweight, over-wrought parking-lot attendant who lives and breathes vicariously through one of NYC’s professional sports teams) has the shit kicked out of him in a stripper bar. They fail to contact the hospitalized fan to see how much cash might ensure no charge is laid or lawsuit filed. With a real-time example of shush money in play as the world’s most famous golfer tries to erase his monumental dance card from being fully disclosed, that omission looms large. Similarly, constant companion Sal’s (Kevin Corrigan expertly does all that he’s asked) no response to his own hero’s thrashing needs a tad more narrative explanation to ring true.
Those quibbles, aside, the rest of the production is a spectacular example of all the write stuff.
Imagine a football film without a single scrimmage filling the screen. The closest we get are the extra-special “stadium” seats as Paul and Sal wire their TV to an engine battery, allowing the paupers to cheer on their heroes from the parking lot. Instead, it’s left to the unseen announcers to update the action, scores and—most importantly—the late-night radio call-in shows where Paul regularly sings (from a scripted songbook whose lyrics are crafted between underground customers during his day job) the praises of his team and masterfully mocks all naysayers—notably Philadelphia Phil (Michael Rapaport) whose interminable taunts lead to an unforgettable climax.
There’s a danger of having so much heard rather than seen, but wearing the director’s hat, Siegel (with a wonderful sense of common cause from cinematographer Michael Simmonds first-class work and Joshua Trank’s deft editing skill) keeps the production moving steadily forward with just enough twists to hold everyone's attention. No point is too small (Paul’s NFL comfort blanket, his mother’s huge collection of Chinese take-out condiment packets) or without a reason to support the far larger non-sports themes that lift much of the film from entertainment to art. (As his exasperated live-in-the-next-room mom—“Happy is family and children,” she decries to her only perceived failure whose right-hand dates she is much chagrined to dispose of—Marcia Jean Kurtz hits all of the right notes.)
The rest of the Aufiero clan is largely in the background but brought in when needed to demonstrate how their “good” lives also have a few soiled sheets in the hamper.
The cantus firmus of unshakeable belief is reinforced on many levels. Whether or not those we steadfastly admire—some to the point of compulsive worship—still deserve our unfailing forgiveness and support even as they reveal their feet of clay or unarguable defeats on life’s playing field remains largely subjective. After all, there’s always next season! JWR