clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Movie Review:

"Big Fish"

This is a Tim Burton movie.

And I say that in the nicest possible way, because films directed by Burton can be an acquired taste, and if you don't like his style ("Batman", "Edward Scissorhands", "Ed Wood", "Mars Attacks") you are not going to like this film.

It's based on a novel which I have not read, so I can make no comparisons. But I note that Steven Spielberg was the first choice to direct this film, and it would have been a very different film under Spielberg. Apparently he turned it down because it conflicted with his schedule for "Catch Me If You Can". That was a decent film, but he should have taken this one.

It's a total fantasy ride, and it's for you to decide what is real and what is not, because not only is it not clear in the film, that's really what the movie is about.

Albert Finney is Edward Bloom, a dying old man whose son, Will (Billy Crudup, from "Almost Famous"), is grounded in reality, so much so because he has heard his dad tell fanciful tales of his childhood throughout his life, when Will only saw him as a traveling salesman. At one point the two don't speak for years because Will thinks his dad embarrassed him at Will's wedding.

This is one of the few movies I have seen where much of it is told in flashback, requiring different actors to play the same character at different ages, yet you can totally accept Finney as the older version of Ewan MacGregor's young Edward, or Alison Lohman as the young version of Edward's wife Sandra, played as an older woman with great grace by Jessica Lange. Someone who plays both a younger and an older character is Helena Bonham Carter (Jenny), whose story will break your heart.

There are fun tales of giants and witches and a town called Spectre which either really is or really isn't, and at one point you find yourself thinking it's "heaven", but it winds up being something else entirely. It's laden with Burton mainstays like shots of a cookie-cutter suburban street in primary colors, with Danny DeVito as a circusmaster who at first seems cruel, but shows his heart, and with cars in trees and vines taking over houses and even a homage of a sort to "Edward Scissorhands", as Burton winks at his own history and life.

Lessons are learned, of course, especially by Will, who is the only one who doesn't want to accept and really love his father, as even Will's French wife (who is expecting a baby) has done.

And it really is up to you to decide what's real and what's fantasy, and perhaps that is a tale of what life is all about. The title refers both to an actual fish (or is it a fantasy fish? We are never sure.) and to the proverbial old saying of being a "big fish in a small pond".

This is another film that is currently in limited release in NY and LA (in order to meet Academy deadlines for Oscar consideration) and will be released nationwide after Christmas.

It was shot in gorgeous country in and around Montgomery, Alabama, and if you see this film and it makes you more interested in the area and how the film was made, the Montgomery Advertiser has this special page with dozens of linked articles about the making of the film.

This is turning out to be a special year for movies; I can think of several films that in any other year would easily win "Best Picture".

AYRating: ***