If Big Fish had been directed by anyone other than Tim Burton, I probably would have been bored out of my scull. Thankfully, Burtons gorgeous visuals boost the film from yawn-worthy to thoroughly entertaining.
I dont tend to be interested in father-son stories because they are usually rife with clichés. Its always the same story. The son tries hard to please his father, but the lad thinks that nothing he ever does will be good enough for his old man. They have a falling out and reconcile only when the father is on his deathbed or, in the case of Field of Dreams, after the father has passed away.
Underneath the giants, midgets, witches, lions, fish, and Steve Buscemi that Burton uses to distract us, the plot is rather weak. The only interesting things that happen are in flashback form and may or may not have occurred only in Edward Blooms mind. With the exception of the The Wizard of Oz, Being John Malkovich, or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,long fantasy sequences in films often feel like a waste of time. However, Big Fish proves that taking a detour isnt necessarily a bad thing.
Big Fish is about a son trying to learn [dramatic pause] who his father really is and whether or not his incredible tall tales actually occurred. After two hours, very few of our questions are answered, which makes the film somewhat frustrating, but its a fun ride nonetheless.
Throughout his life, Will Bloom has been overshadowed by his larger-than-life father, Edward, a traveling salesman. At Wills wedding, Edward (Albert Finney) makes a speech thats really about himself, his boastful and wildly exaggerated story about catching a giant fish. Will tells his father off and moves to Paris. Even though Will is very close to his mother, he is so angry at his father than he hasnt gone home in three years. When Will receives a call that Edward has cancer, he hops a plane with his pregnant wife Josephine, who, predictably, serves as a catalyst for repairing the father-son wounds, in tow. Josephine (Marion Cotillard) is kind and patient, listening to Edwards stories as he lies in bed looking like the healthiest cancer patient in the world. Even after he is taken to the hospital when he has a stroke, Edward looks perfectly robust. The rest of the film is dominated by magical realism and fairy tales, but I thought they could have made at least a token effort to make the medical aspects of the film seem plausible.
The only explanation for why the producers of Big Fish cast Ewan McGregor as young Edward Bloom is that they wanted a repeat performance of his melodramatic love-struck playwright in Moulin Rouge. There must be other actors who can express their undying love in an over-the-top fashion, and some of them could probably do an Alabama accent without sounding like a bad imitation of Forrest Gump.
I was also disappointed with Billy Crudup as Will. Wills stolid demeanor is meant to contrast his fathers expressiveness and gregarious lifestyle, but I found him unrealistically bland and wooden. Jessica Lange is wasted as Wills mother. Shes pretty but incredibly passive, and we dont find out anything about her at all. It seems as if Edward always speaks for her, and her character just takes up space, although their bathtub scene is adorable.
Fortunately, Steve Buscemi arrives to save the film as a down and out poet laureate, providing Big Fishs comedic high points. Helena Bonham Carter proves her versatility, playing a witch from Edwards childhood and a woman he meets during his odysseys.
I felt that the symbolism in Big Fish was a bit too blatant at times, and the last twenty minutes or so (when the film tries to make you cry) dragged a bit. A few people I know said they wept at the end, and it is rather touching (and really cool!), but my eyes stayed dry.
While I have many criticisms of the acting, casting, plot, and screenplay (there were a few times when I thought, Come on! No one talks like that!), the special effects and images are top-notch. I especially enjoyed the vibrant carnival scenes with Danny DeVito as a sadistic ringmaster. Edward tells us that when you meet the love of your life, time stands still. He happens to meet his at the circus, and its a joyous sight to see him walk through the frozen chaos, pushing floating popcorn kernels out of his way as he wanders toward young Sandra (Alison Lohman), transfixed by her beauty.
When time stops in Big Fish, the silence is refreshing. Danny DeVito and Steve Buscemi are given some wonderful lines, but, for the rest of the film, youd get nearly as much out of it if you watched it with the sound off, saving you from cringing at the moments of cheesy dialog and lame plot foundation.
Video Occasion: Good Date Movie
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older
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