Based on Frederick Exley’s offbeat memoir, which the author has described as a highly fictionalized riff on his troubled life, this unsatisfying attempt at a black comedy exists on the same continuum as End of the Road (1970) and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), both of which were adapted from books about modern men grappling with insanity. As directed by Eric Till, A Fan’s Notes is far more lighthearted than either of the other pictures. It’s also less effective and memorable. Jerry Orbach stars as Fred, a young man chasing the American Dream by working in PR even as he wrestles with hallucinations and obsessions. The title stems partly from Fred’s preoccupation with the New York Giants; it seems Fred met Frank Gifford once during college, before Gifford became an NFL star, and subsequently spun the connection into a fixation, bogusly telling strangers he’s friends with Gifford.
Presented with a disjointed timeline, the movie mostly takes place while Fred is a resident at a mental institution. (It’s unclear whether many scenes taking place beyond the walls of the institution stem from escape attempts or legitimate day passes.) The most time-consuming storyline concerns Fred’s courtship with, and marriage to, a blonde dream girl named Bunny Sue (Julia Ann Robinson). Fred’s delusional quality gives him the confidence to woo Bunny Sue, but then his neuroses manifest as impotence even as Bunny Sue engages in flamboyant role-playing to get his motor running. The Bunny Sue storyline also includes Fred’s strange interactions with Bunny Sue’s father, Poppy (Conrad Bain), who seems to take perverse pleasure in the knowledge that Fred is sleeping with his daughter. A Fan’s Notes also features therapy scenes at the mental institution and a recurring trope of Fred sitting in the middle of an empty country road while he chats with a biker who stops to keep him company. One suspects the road imagery is an unsubtle way of indicating that Fred isn’t going anywhere, since the title of Exley’s book also relates to the idea that Exley is more spectator than participant.
Orbach seems badly miscast, since the actor conveys great self-assurance, and A Fan’s Notes is bogged down with pretentious and/or weird dialogue: “Football is an island of direction in a world of circumspection”; “The first time I saw Bunny Sue, I wanted to bury my teeth, Dracula-like, in her flanks, knowing that she would bleed pure butterscotch.” Similarly, it’s hard to make sense of the subplot involving Mr. Blue (Burgess Meredith), an eccentric aluminum-siding salesman who comports himself like an aristocrat even as he extols the virtues of “muff-diving.” By many critical criteria, A Fan’s Notes is unsatisfying, because it’s cold, dissonant, and strange. Yet the picture also has a certain pride of authorship simply because it conveys Exley’s unusual perspective.
A Fan’s Notes: FUNKY