If there is one thing you can say about the films of director Tim Burton from Beetlejuice and Edward Scissorhands to Batman and Sleepy Hollow—it is that they are always visually stunning; and his new film, Big Fish, is no exception. From 15-foot tall giants to small, quirky, hole-in-the-wall towns, the movie is a delight to watch. The unique story is not too bad either.
“Most people will tell you a story straight through. It won’t be complicated, but it won’t be interesting either,” the dying Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) tells his pregnant daughter-in-law. Edward and his son Will (Billy Crudup) have not spoken for a good three years after Will finally grew tired of his father’s insistence to tell wild fabricated stories about his life. Through various flashbacks the film takes us through the story of Edward’s life, just as he would tell us.
After growing up the toast of the small town of Ashton, Alabama—where the glass eye of the local witch revealed the manner of his death—Edward left the town flanked by a 15-foot giant, determined that he was meant for bigger things. After a short detour in a pastoral little town—“so strange, yet so familiar”—Edward meets the love of his life at a circus. Edward spends the next three years doing various jobs for the circus ring-master (Danny DeVito), in exchange for one new fact about his love a month. When he finally learns that she is Auburn student Sandra Templeton (Alison Lohman), Edward leaves the circus and refuses to let any detail—such as Sandra already being engaged—stand in the way of him and the woman he is going to marry.
Will has heard all of these stories a million times and they have pushed him away from the father he never believed he really knew. With his father’s life coming to an end, Will might finally get the opportunity to understand who his father really is.
Big Fish is a delightful movie that seems to strive for Forrest Gump-like success (it even takes place in Alabama) and although it falls short of that classic film, it is not without its charms. Ewan McGregor delivers another fine performance as the younger Edward Bloom. With the naiveté quality and complete determination in winning the woman he loves, McGregor plays this role almost as an extension of his Moulin Rouge persona, with a little bit of Down with Love’s cocky Catcher Block thrown in.
The relationship between the father and son—which is what the movie was really about—does not seem to be fleshed out as much as it could. Instead, the relationship in the film I found most interesting was between Finney and Jessica Lange as the elder Edward and Sandra Bloom. The two great actors are both terrific in their roles; particularly in an emotional bathtub scene.
Recently nominated for four Golden Globe nominations including Best Picture (Musical or Comedy) and Best Supporting Actor (Finney), Big Fish is a touching and offbeat fish story. I give it a B+.