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Big Fish: Moulin Rouge Meets Field of Dreams for the Un-Athletic

  • Apr 30, 2004
  • by
Pros: visuals, special effects, Buscemi, Finney, DeVito, fun to watch

Cons: basic story is weak, McGregor's accent

The Bottom Line: This bottom line's not big enough for a woman of my ambition.

Plot Details: This opinion reveals no details about the movie''s plot.

If Big Fish had been directed by anyone other than Tim Burton, I probably would have been bored out of my scull. Thankfully, Burton’s gorgeous visuals boost the film from yawn-worthy to thoroughly entertaining.

I don’t tend to be interested in father-son stories because they are usually rife with clich├ęs. It’s 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 Bloom’s 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 isn’t 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 it’s a fun ride nonetheless.

Throughout his life, Will Bloom has been overshadowed by his larger-than-life father, Edward, a traveling salesman. At Will’s wedding, Edward (Albert Finney) makes a speech that’s 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 hasn’t 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 Edward’s 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. Will’s stolid demeanor is meant to contrast his father’s expressiveness and gregarious lifestyle, but I found him unrealistically bland and wooden. Jessica Lange is wasted as Will’s mother. She’s pretty but incredibly passive, and we don’t 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 Fish’s comedic high points. Helena Bonham Carter proves her versatility, playing a witch from Edward’s 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 it’s 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, you’d 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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More Big Fish reviews
review by . March 07, 2005
posted in Movie Hype
This is one of those movies you want to just see to enjoy. Wonderful imagination here on several levels. It is difficult to separate reality from dream/story here, as the film was ment to be. Burton has done a good job of this. I suppose you could call this an adventure fairytale of sorts. Be that as it may, I enjoyed it and would recommend it highly. Just watch it and have fun!
review by . April 29, 2004
BIG FISH is a sleeper of a movie. Now that may sound like an oxymoron for a Tim Burton all-stops-out fantasy gig, but for those who don't get lightheaded at the mention of this talented director's name of ilk of films, this journey has a lot of fine surprises. Yes, this is another fantasy movie, but this time the fantasy embroiders a tender and (and all too frequent) trying examination of a father/son relationship. Young Will Bloom is called home to Alabama (where his father is dying) from Paris …
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About this movie


After a string of mediocre movies, director Tim Burton regains his footing as he shifts from macabre fairy tales to Southern tall tales.Big Fish twines in and out of the oversized stories of Edward Bloom, played as a young man by Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge, Down with Love) and as a dying father by Albert Finney (Tom Jones). Edward's son Will (Billy Crudup,Almost Famous) sits by his father's bedside but has little patience with the old man's fables, because he feels these stories have kept him from knowing who his father really is. Burton dives into Bloom's imagination with zest, sending the determined young man into haunted woods, an idealized Southern town, a traveling circus, and much more. The result is sweet but--thanks to the director's dark and clever sensibility--never saccharine. Also featuring Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Helena Bonham Carter, Danny DeVito, and Steve Buscemi.--Bret Fetzer
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