Big Fish Review
It's been years since Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) has spoken to his father. To the world, Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) is a lovable eccentric whose jokes and tall stories about his adventures make him the life and soul of any party. To Will, the old man is a congenital liar and attention seeker who kept his son so deeply in his shadow that he moved to France so he could feel he was living his own life. Now married and expecting his first child, Will learns from his mother Sandra (Jessica Lange) that Ed hasn't long to live and he would like to have his family together once more before he dies. Returning home, Will tries to convince his father to drop the act and let him see the real man beneath.
Ed is sticking to his story. As he tells it, his life was one long fairy tale involving witches, giants, ghost towns, werewolves, daring wartime missions, circuses, siamese twins and the mythical catfish of the title, which Ed claims he caught on the day of his son's birth. His stories are told in flashbacks featuring Ewan McGregor as the young Edward Bloom and Alison Lohman as Sandra, the girl Ed knew would be the love of his life when time froze the second he saw her.
Although Big Fish has been seen by some as Tim Burton going back to his roots, it's more like Burton's take on a certain fanciful tradition of American storytelling that's endured from Tom Sawyer to Forrest Gump. Big Fish has it all: the quaint southern locations, the larger than life characters, the meandering story, the wry narration and the unashamed tear-jerking. It's not only an example of the genre but a salute to it, the film's clear message being that people today place too much importance on mundane reality and not enough on imagination. Perhaps it's not a message that everyone will appreciate and Big Fish won't be to all tastes - it may disappoint those who prefer Burton's more cynical movies like Mars Attacks! However those who don't mind a bit of sentimentality and were partial to the softer side the director showed with Edward Scissorhands and Pee-wee's Big Adventure should find Big Fish just as charming and engrossing.
Burton has certainly picked a perfect cast. Ewan McGregor has never been more likeable and Albert Finney brings exactly the right balance of gravity and mischief. Together they do an amazing job of creating a whole character, as do Jessica Lange and Alison Lohman who look almost spookily similar. Incidentally, the childlike Lohman is playing her real twentysomething age for the first time after portraying kids in Matchstick Men and White Oleander. While Billy Crudup is saddled with the thankless straight role, he's fine in it and the large supporting cast is filled out with such welcome faces as Danny DeVito and Steve Buscemi. I'm not sure I can give Helena Bonham Carter a bigger compliment than to admit I didn't recognise her.
If you enjoy Big Fish, make a point of seeing Secondhand Lions, a film with much the same appeal which stars Haley Joel Osment, Michael Caine and Robert Duvall. It was released to little attention in October but is well worth a look when it appears on video and DVD in February.