Tim Burton is perhaps the most idiosyncratic and quirky director working in Hollywood today. His films may fail to satisfy you, but even the most critical of viewers would agree that they are fascinating.
Big Fish, starring Ewan McGregor, tells the story of Edward Bloom, whose exaggerated stories about his own life are loved by everyone else except his son Will, played without any grace by Billy Crudup. (For a while, I confused Crudup with Christian Bale, a far superior actor). This conflict between Edward’s fables, which his son sees as lies, and his son’s refusal to believe them is the theme of the movie.
The stories that make up Edward’s life include: A circus owner, played by Danny Devito, who becomes a werewolf by night; the heaven-like town of Spectre which has grass pavements and where no one wears shoes; a naked mermaid, who appears as the object anyone wishes for; a pair of conjoin Korean twins; a witch played by Helena Bonham Carter in whose eyes the viewer can see the exact manner of his death; and a thousand other scenes which serve as Burton’s big excuse to show off the special effects.
We don’t quite know until the end if the stories are all true. Edward’s wife played by a lovely looking Alison Lohman (who matures into Jessica Lange) tells her son that not all the stories are entirely fabricated.
But somehow, the Burton touch, while clearly there, doesn’t work its usual magic. That’s probably because this is a very pointless story just like those told by its protagonist played in old age by Albert Finney. At one point, Edward’s doctor tells his son that he chose to believe the stories because they were always better than the truth. But the movie doesn’t delve deeper into this subject. Are fables better than truth? Burton doesn’t ask.
The title of the movie is from one of Edward’s stories. This is the fish Edward is catching when his son is born and the fish that he turns into in the movie abysmal climatic sequence.
This is a feel good film with its moments. Like like the one where Edward runs into the poet Norther Winslow (a cameo by Steve Buscemi) just as he is robbing a bank.
The darkness that was so present in Burton’s earlier movies like Sleepy Hollow is missing here. Never mind that the quality of this film is nowhere close to Edward Scissorhands, the effort that made Burton internationally known.
I love Burton movies and consider myself a fan. If you don’t like him much, don’t watch this movie.