There is something so heartfelt and sincere about Tim Burton’s “Big Fish” that if you don’t find yourself smiling during the movie and then deeply affected when it’s done, you are the type of person I do not wish to ever meet. “Big Fish” is the type of movie Burton should be making, not overdone action fare like “Sleepy Hollow” or, God forbid, more of the likes of “Planet of the Apes”. Few movies can make two hours seem like one, and when it’s all over you wish there was more. It’s to the credit of Burton, screenwriter John August (“Go”), and the leading turns by Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney that we wish their movie was longer.
“Big Fish” stars Albert Finney (“Erin Brockovich”) as Ed Bloom, an eccentric traveling salesman now on his deathbed. His son Will (Billy Crudup) is called home, but Will has issues with his often-absent father. After three years of not talking, father and son have little in common. Ed is a man of many stories, and many of them are so fantastical that the now-grown Will refuses to believe his father is anything but a devoted liar. Between Will trying to come to terms with his father, we see Ed’s stories play out in all their glory.
Young Ed is played by Ewan McGregor (“Down With Love”), a charmingly affable young man with an indomitable spirit. As Ed tells in one of his “big fish stories”, he was born to do great things and easily excels at everything he tries his hand at. Having outgrown his small town, Ed travels out to the rest of the world, where he meets a giant, a circus ringmaster who is also a wolf, and falls madly in love with his wife, played by Alison Lohman (“Matchstick Men”) as a young girl and Jessica Lange (“Titus”) in the present day.
To sit down and watch “Big Fish” one must approach it with a clean slate. Unlike son Will, who sees his father as a stranger incapable of telling the truth, we must be willing to accept the script, based on a novel by Daniel Wallace, as is. Oh sure, there is no denying that most, if not all, of Ed’s tales are just that — tall tales. But to accept them, without a shred of doubt, is what is needed to fully “get” the magical vibe of “Big Fish”. But while the film’s retelling of Ed’s tales are meant to be taken with a wink and a nod, Ed’s relationship with his son in the present resonates with very real emotion.
It’s hard to stress just how good “Big Fish” is. The word “fantastic” keeps cropping up as I try to properly do the story some justice. Tim Burton is no stranger to weirdness, but “Big Fish” is more than just weird. It’s what can happen when vibrant imaginations receive aid from state-of-the-art computer effects. Not a single scene is shortchanged; in fact, it’s quite amazing how realistic the film’s fantasy segments are. The film has such life to it that one will be hardpressed to notice the CGI or computer effects being used. In that way, Burton and company have managed to blend technology with imagination and not call attention to the seamless blending.
“Big Fish” is a marvelous accomplishment. Not just technically, but in every category that matters. In the few scenes that she’s in, Jessica Lange is so understated and yet so effective. Her scene with Finney, in a bathtub, is heartbreaking in its simplicity; and yet you never feel sorry for them, but rather awed at their continued, and inseparable, affections for one another. The only question mark is Billy Crudup (“Charlotte Gray”), whose character’s sometimes abrasive attitude threatens to dampen the oftentimes light-hearted mood. Crudup seems to be giving off too much intensity; at least, more than is appropriate for the role.
“Big Fish” is a marvelous, wonderful, and magical movie. It’s simply an amazing film from beginning to end, the kind of film that can be seen at just about any occasion one finds oneself in. Rather sad, happy, or somewhere in-between, it hardly matters. “Big Fish” can cheer you up and at the same time reaffirm your believe in living life. It’s the kind of special movie that no review can really do it proper justice.
And so I will stop now, and just tell you to see this movie. It’s worth more than two hours of your time.
Tim Burton (director) / Daniel Wallace (novel), John August (screenplay)
CAST: Ewan McGregor …. Young Ed Bloom
Albert Finney …. Senior Ed Bloom
Billy Crudup …. Will Bloom
Jessica Lange …. Senior Sandra Bloom
Helena Bonham Carter …. Jenny/The Witch