Big Fish


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Ewan McGregor as Young Edward Bloom
Albert Finney as Old Edward Bloom
Billy Crudup as William Bloom
Jessica Lange as Sandy Bloom
Alison Lohman as Young Sandy Bloom
Helena Bonham Carter as Jenny
Steve Buscemi as Norther Winslow
Danny DeVito as Amos
Robert Guillaume as Family Doctor
John Lowell as Young Don Price
Matthew McGrory as Karl
Charles McLawhorn as Mayor
Hailey Anne Nelson as Young Jenny
Missi Pyle as Mildred
Ada Tai as Ping
Arlene Tai as Jing
Darrell Vanterpool as Wilbur Freely
Loudon Wainwright III as Beamen
Don Young as Shepard

Big Fish is Tim Burton’s version of Big Fish. With great performances by Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney, this is a fun story though it is often sappy and surreal.

This film is based on the novel by Daniel Wallace.

William Bloom’s father Edward has always been known for telling tall tales. From outrageous stories about catching big fish to tales about werewolves, witches, and giants, each story Edward tells is more silly and unbelievable than the one before. While everyone else enjoys these stories, William resents his father for the elaborate tales. He longs to know who his father really is and what he’s possibly covering up about himself.

When Edward enters the final stages of terminal cancer, William returns home with his pregnant wife to try and reconcile with his father. However, Edward is reluctant to tell his son about his real life. He sticks to the fanciful stories about how he saved a town, joined a circus, robbed a bank, and spied on Korea during the war. But as William digs deeper, will he prefer the fantasy stories over reality? And just how much of his father’s tall tales are true?

Big Fish is rated PG-13 for a fight scene, some images of nudity and a suggestive reference.

What Worked:
I’m a big fan of Tim Burton’s movies, so I was eager to see his latest film. Believe it or not, Big Fish is probably Burton’s most normal movie to date. The scenes in the “real world” are so normal that they could have been filmed by any director. It’s only when the film departs into the fanciful world of Edward’s tall tales that you see Burton’s trademark quirkiness. The story features an estranged son and a dying father coming to reconciliation and the film seems very much like therapy for the oddball director. (Apparently he lost his father who he was not close to during the filming of Planet of the Apes.) This seems to help him add genuine feeling to the story that he might not have otherwise had. It also ends up being Burton’s first tearjerker.

Ewan McGregor is excellent in the film. He plays the young Edward Bloom with such sincerity and enthusiasm that you instantly buy the character. It helps that he adopts the Southern accent and persona without a hint of condescending attitude. This makes him all the more charming as he tells stories about his fanciful adventures. His performance is perfectly complimented by that of Albert Finney who plays the old Edward Bloom. Again, you totally buy his character and as he tells his tall tales, you’re drawn into them like every other character in the movie. He plays the character with such charm that you instantly like him. Finney’s warm hearted persona even shines through when he’s on his deathbed. These two performances are nicely backed up by Billy Crudup as William Bloom. You really feel his frustration and longing to know his father although you don’t necessarily sympathize with his annoyance with his father’s stories. Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Helena Bonham Carter, and Steve Buscemi round out the excellent cast with wonderful performances.

The movie is most fun when it departs into the world of Edward’s tall tales. It’s at these times that Burton shines and the story becomes most fun. It is also the time when Burton’s great sense of humor is shown. There’s a hilarious sequence with McGregor and Buscemi robbing a bank. (Buscemi’s character is also an atrocious poet and that offers up some fun jokes.) Then there’s a fun sequence where Danny DeVito’s ringmaster character takes advantage of Edward and makes him work at the circus for months on end. This creates a hilarious montage of sequences of young Edward working various odd jobs. Flashbacks of courting Sandy, fighting in the Korean War, and becoming a traveling salesman are also amusing and give this movie a very Forrest Gump kind of feel.

The movie also has some deeper thought provoking themes. Early on in the movie, young Edward Bloom learns how he will die from an old witch. Thus knowing the time and means of how he will die, he’s able to face every other obstacle in his life without fear. He simply tells himself, “This isn’t how I die” and he’s able to make it through OK. It’s quite an interesting concept to ponder when you walk out of the theater.

Danny Elfman also re-teams with Burton to deliver a good score. It’s not one you’ll be humming as you leave the theater, but it’s good nevertheless.

What Didn’t Work:
As much as there was good in Big Fish, there seemed to be bad to offset it. It kept dancing back and forth over the line of what worked and what didn’t. I enjoyed the fanciful moments of the film, but it frequently crossed the line into the realm of the surreal. For example, there’s a great scene where Edward parachutes into the middle of a bizarre North Korean military talent show. (A really bad ventriloquist being dragged off the stage was one of the funnier things I’ve seen this year.) Moments later, the next act is a pair of Siamese twins with two torsos and one set of legs. It was a bit weird and dumb. Another example is a scene where Edward is trapped in a torrential downpour. The next scene is him trapped in his car underwater with a naked woman swimming around. Huh? I’m sure it was an abstract depiction of an event in his life, but it didn’t make sense. I’m all for Burton’s sense of weird, but these moments and others went a little far for my tastes.

The movie also got way sappy at times. In fact, the whole ending of the movie where Edward inevitably dies (and I’m not spoiling anything by telling you that) is so sugary sweet and sappy that it was hard for me to watch. I’ve never seen Burton treat a story with such sappy affection. Maybe it had a lot to do with this being therapy for him.

Big Fish also has an inordinate number of unnecessary butt shots. The worst of them is one by Danny DeVito. We get to see him in all his horrific naked glory. I could have gone forever without seeing his hairy bare backside, yet the image is now burned into my retinas and will haunt me to my dying day.

The Bottom Line:
If you’re a fan of Tim Burton, Ewan McGregor, or Forrest Gump, then this is a movie you’ll want to check out. Everyone else may want to approach it with a bit of caution as it is fanciful, sometimes sappy, and a tearjerker.

Big Fish opens in Los Angeles, New York and Toronto on Wednesday, December 10. It will be released wider on December 25 and then go wide on January 9.