Wookiee Hut Movie Reviews presents:
Big Fish

Movie Review by Diana DeRiggs, MaceVindaloo

Director: Tim Burton

Author/Creator: Daniel Wallace

Screenplay: John August

Starring: Ewan MacGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Billy Crudup, Helena Bonham-Carter, Alison Lohman, Robert Guillaume, Danny DeVito, Steve Buscemi

Rating: Victory Star Destroyer

In life, there are themes and things tend to circle back on a man without announcing its intentions, or so suggests one of the characters from this movie, the title which comes from the description of some people as "a big fish in a small pond." Life is more about the road traveled, rather than the destination, and this story is about Edward Bloom and his life as told to his son, Will.

Will and his father are estranged because Will blames his father for the many lies in his life. He describes his father as "Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny ... just as charming and just as fake." He's bitter that he believed all the tall-tales his father had told him about his life, and he claims he doesn't know his father because of all these "lies."

It's the type of movie which can be called father/son, or coming of age, or even a love story. It's also got many fantasy elements, especially as Edward's stories are re-lived and re-told by and to Will as his father lay dying as an old man.

It might've been too much to believe that Edward rescued his hometown from a giant, but how he handled the situation is way over the top. And how he left the perfect town seems too heroic, but the way he saved the perfect town is equally fantastical. Or how about how he'd spent three years toiling mucking out elephant stalls in order to discover everything about the woman of his dreams ... and how he planted her favorite flower to make a meadow to press his suit ... why he took the beating of his life (ended up in the hospital for weeks) ... and how he volunteered for the most dangerous missions in the Korean War so that he could reduce his conscription from three years to one so he could be with his beloved ... or escaped with singing Siamese twins ... or had an 8-year old fall in love with him, and stay in love with him when she was at last old and gray ... it makes a man seem nutty. Or maybe he's just a bigger fish than anyone had ever seen before?

Finney in Tom Jones

MacGregor in Big Fish

Finney and Branaugh

MacGregor and Finney

The serendipitous nature of life is also reflected in the production of this film. It's directed by Tim Burton, who had directed the likes of Edward Scissorhands, Batman, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Sleepy Hollow, etc. ... and so you'd expect a dark, fantasy-imbued tale of love and heroism. Yet this movie is about a man's life and his son's acceptance of his father, sounds kind of Steven Spielberg-ish, eh? Apparently, Spielberg was originally slated to direct this film but withdrew. He'd wanted Jack Nicholson to play the senior depiction of Bloom, but instead, Albert Finney was chosen to play the dying Alabaman. And if you look at photos of him as a young man in movies like Tom Jones (which he had chosen over Lawrence of Arabia for scheduling reasons and for which he'd won an Oscar) or Two For the Road, he looks like someone else. And on that basis, Ewan MacGregor was hired to play the teen and prime-of-life Bloom. (If you look at photos of a young Finney, he also resembles Kenneth Branaugh, who, along with MacGregor, was considered for the role of Obiwan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels. And Alec Guinness, the original "old Obiwan," was a Shakespearean actor, like Finney. Those two had starred in Scrooge, too ...)

Although people might consider this film choppy because it deals with flashbacks from the imperfect, glorified depiction of a man's past, it did have a pleasant rhythm to it. Burton uses the brightness of color to depict the lives of the young Bloom versus the old Bloom. And what is a blatant and terrible lie to the son is considered entertaining and generous by others. As Blooms wife explains, "Not everything your father says is a lie." And why should the strict truth get in the way of a golden re-telling? Living life dry and without embellishment is not always the way one wants to remember one's life, and certainly not how one wishes to be remembered.

The scenes are a bit familiar; elements from other Burton films do show up — like the "handi-matic" device (Edward Scissorhands), the empty vault (Batman), Bloom's tie when he declares his love for his wife-to-be (Nightmare Before Christmas), the fantasy/dream elements (Sleepy Hollow), but it's subtle and doesn't pull you out of the story. Like a memory, it's an echo which tells you more than is being told directly to you at the time.

Things which seem the most outlandish turn out to be the most true. And it did charm us that the story of Edward Bloom was like the tale that Anakin Skywalker should have seen as his own life. Bloom's pressures and responses came from within himself from his belief (and truth) that he is a Big Fish, whereas Skywalker's pressures were external. Uh, that's a GFFA segue, because we have to admit, we love MacGregor as Obiwan so much that we kept seeing the young Obiwan here: the good man who gave of himself to everyone he touched, to the sacrifice of the man closest to him.

Everyone's performances in this reality/fantasy film was very good, except that Bill Crudup was a bit bland and way too unlikable. But that didn't really mar the enjoyment of the rest of this fairy tale-like film. Everyone's Alabama accents were excellent! How could that be for MacGregor and Finney? Think about it ... Americans in the deep, deep South came from ye olde England, Scotland, Ireland, etc. The accents in this part of the world are actually closer to older British Isles accents than the modern UK is. So it's really not much of a stretch to talk like a 'baman, eh? In any case, it was all wonderful and despite the fantastic nature of the story, the accents didn't break the movie's reality.

It's a sentimental film, and a good Father's Day preparation flick. The basic message: things which you know about your sire are things you choose to be true. It may be a good thing to see HIS truth instead — his truth may be realer than yours, and a heck of a ways more entertaining, too!

Images from www.imdb.com

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