Big Fish

star2 star1 star1


Director: Tim Burton

Writers: Daniel Wallace (the book) & John August (screenplay)

Main Cast:
Ewan McGregor Ed Bloom (Young)
Albert Finney
Ed Bloom (Senior)
Billy Crudup
Will Bloom
Jessica Lange
Sandra Bloom (Senior)
Helena Bonham Carter
Jenny (Young & Senior) & The Witch
Alison Lohman
Sandra Bloom (Young)
Robert Guillaume
Dr. Bennett (Senior)
Marion Cotillard
Matthew McGrory
Karl the Giant
David Denman
Don Price (Age 18-22)
Missi Pyle
Loudon Wainwright III
Beamen (as Loudon Wainwright)
Ada Tai
Arlene Tai
Steve Buscemi
Norther Winslow

Running time: 125 Minutes

Rating: PG-13

Year of Release: 2003 

To sum up: Will Bloom hates his dad because during all of the conversations that he has ever had with him, dad can't help spinning an outrageous "fish story". 


“They say, when you meet the love of your life, time stops, and that's true. What they don't tell you is that when it starts again, it moves extra fast to catch up.”



         Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) doesn’t like his father, Ed (Albert Finney), a man who, as long as Will’s known him, has peppered tales of his life with such outlandish details, that it has driven them apart. Now that his father is dying, Will has come home to say farewell and, hopefully, get to the truth of who his father really is. But what if what dad has been saying all this time turns out to be the truth?

         This film, one of the most down to earth for director Tim Burton, toys with the concept of whether Ed's tall tales, the Big Fish stories, are the actual truth, or simple exaggerations. Which is a preferable reality, the "fantasy", a world where magical things can really happen (surely more enjoyable to the audience), or the dull, mundane, "real world", in which the stories are really gross misrepresentations? Which is the truth? We are kept guessing until the very end. One’s reaction to the truth will depend on their personal philosophies and world outlook.

         The story also draws the audience in with their empathizing with the relationship between Will and his father. Will is frustrated to the point of not talking to his father for several years from what he sees as a continual fabrication of lies. Is dad hiding something? Is he refusing to open up and tell the truth, continually falling back on these ridiculous stories thereby driving a wedge between him and his son? Is it the truth as he sees it mired in poor recall? Or is it maybe, just maybe, that these stories are true? In short, can you love someone for being who they are instead of what you want them to be? And it seems that the audience is asked which point of view they would prefer and ultimately, they will sympathize with either the son or the father.

         Ewan McGregor is good as the super-affable young Ed Bloom. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an actor who can produce such a disarming, naively charming smile. You totally believe the open sincerity of this guy. It is his performance that creates a character who is realistic enough to go through all of these interesting adventures. If there is a downside, it is the handicap of the type of character that he plays. He exists solely as a flashback, a character from the perspective of the rose colored glasses of the elder Ed Bloom. It is a point of view that limits the nuances of the performance to essentially one note, a very charming note, but one note none-the-less.

         Albert Finney as the older Ed is a bit more interesting. To him what he says is the truth and he is truly perplexed as to why his son doesn’t simply believe him. This is his life as he sees it, and as far as he's concerned, he's not building walls; he's engaging with his son. It's just not in the way that his son wants.

         The thankless task of being the antagonist is Will as played by Billy Crudup. It’s not a very sympathetic role, as the film’s charm lies in the indulgence of these “tall tale” flashbacks, and he exists as the conflict–producing character that refuses to buy into all of this. Yet, at the same time, it’s through his point of view that we are meant to view the film. It is with his character, more than the others, that we participate with in the film and ask, “What would I do in this situation?” Billy takes the role and infuses it with sympathy, coming off as a person who feels truly betrayed by what he sees as a father’s refusal to open up to his son. Though he is a curmudgeon, trying to drag his father (and the audience) back top reality, you don’t necessarily hate him for it.

         The film is a fantasy and deserves kudos for being unique and entertaining - a visual treat that while fantastical, never calls attention to itself; in other words, the effects never supercede the story.

         One of the film’s problems, however, is that, at times, it is slow. It sometimes indulges in flights of fancy without really going somewhere. It made me fidgety, as I looked at my watch here and there.

         All in all Tim Burton has created an entertaining film. A film that doesn’t necessarily feel like a Tim Burton film with a Danny Elfman soundtrack that doesn’t sound like a Danny Elfman soundtrack, while still being a film that only those two could seem to produce.

         Some have complained that the film isn’t dark enough, that Tim Burton has sold out to sentimentality. I think this is silly and ridiculous. The film never has a fake feeling of sweetness. It’s very honest. It’s a cliché to say that art has to be dark and grim all of the time, that feel-good movies are sellouts. Because I’m sure all of us would rather go through life estranged from out parents and siblings, clinging to anger rather than love.

         Catch this Fish.



(2003. Reviewed by Frederick Holbrook)


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