Review Date: November 25, 2003
Director: Tim Burton
Writer: John August
Producers: Richard Zanuck, Dan Jinks, Bruce Cohen
The story of an elderly man who likes to tell tall tales that everyone, but his son, likes to hear. Upon his deathbed, his boy comes to see him one last time and tries to figure out what his real father is like. As the tales unfold, we see what actually drove the man and led him to fantasize so much. What was real? What wasn't? Is it all just in the ear of the listener? Tim Burton leading an orchestra of cinema...ensues.
BIG FISH was one of the films that I was most looking forward to this year, most notably because it was led by Tim Burton, the man behind some of my favorite movies of all-time like EDWARD SCISSORHANDS and THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. But as I walked out of my screening, I realized that I was never particularly overwhelmed or as emotionally involved as I would have liked to have been, despite enjoying the film as a whole and being entertained. I could see how the film could have reached down to my heartstrings and played them for a few rounds, but I'm not sure if it was the mood that I was in, the structure of the film itself (goes back and forth between the present and flashbacks throughout) or the fact that we spend a little bit of time with many different characters -- hence the lack of any major connection to just one -- but I just wasn't able to relate to it more poignantly. It did, however, work effectively on many other fronts including and foremost, its beauty of composition with a variety of shots feeling like they came straight out of a fairy tale novel, with its overall mood and atmosphere reinforcing that, as well as Danny Elfman's lush score. I wanted to move into that small town of Spectre! (although figuratively, it is a place that many people find themselves in life: happy, yet complacent) The actors, and characters, were also well played, specifically Ewan McGregor who overplayed his Southern accent as he did in DOWN WITH LOVE and Jessica Lange, who it was nice to see back again. Incidentally, can there be a greater actress to play the "young version" of Lange in this film than Alison Lohmann? I think not. The smaller parts by Danny DeVito, the always-adorable Helena Bonham Carter and Steve Buscemi also helped make the quirky film, that much quirkier.
The bits that I liked best about the picture were its tall tales though, as presented by the sturdy Albert Finney to his son Billy Crudup. Almost every single yarn was a fun one to hear and see presented on the big screen (see Giants, Two-Headed Asian Singers, Werewolves!) As the childhood stories built to the more adult ones, the deeper nature of their meaning also grew, as did the imagination of the man telling them. The entire film has a lot more symbolism than I picked up on during my first viewing, but you don't need to connect all those dots in order to enjoy the movie. The film's greatest downside, in my opinion, was its predictability of conclusion, which I guessed about as soon as the movie started, as well as its freakish similarity to another such child-to-adult "fairy-tale" that won a few Oscars back in 1994, called FORREST GUMP. I'm not even talking about the basic outline of a small-town boy with a heavy Southern accent heading out into the world and tumbling into all kinds of bizarre adventures. I'm talking about specifics too, including his call to war, his deathbed scene with a parent, his lover named Jenny, the advice he offers a friend who gets rich from it and so on and yes...so forth. Very, very eerie. It was almost to a point that I expected the lead character to start playing ping-pong and shake hands with a President, but the film obviously has many differences as well, including its greater emphasis on the surreal, the flighty, the magical and the Burton (all fans of the visionary will sense him all around) In the end, the film plays sincerely, moves at a nice pace, doesn't outstay its welcome and offers several funny moments, intertwined with some emotional and entertaining ones. The film didn't move or surprise me per se, but it's definitely a solid addition to Mr. Burton's impressive resume and should fulfill all those who adore him.
(c) 2013 Berge Garabedian