Monday, July 18, 2011

Big Fish

Directed by Tim Burton.
2003. Rated PG-13, 125 minutes.
Ewan McGregor
Albert Finney
Billy Crudup
Jessica lange
Helena Bonham Carter
Steve Buscemi
Robert Guillaume
Alison Lohman
Marion Cotillard
Ada Tai
Arlene Tai

As long as anyone can remember Ed Bloom (McGregor and Finney playing the younger and older versions, respectively) spent his days telling one tall tale after another. He’s told so many, so often that his adult son Will (Crudup) resents him. Will doesn’t feel he knows anything about his dad. Now that Ed is dying, Will is determined to separate the facts from fiction in all those stories.

Like all of director Tim Burton’s work Big Fish is visually arresting. It’s technicolor backdrops contrasted with goth-inspired characters. From time to time there are amazing occurrences within this dynamic. When necessary, that dynamic changes. The scenery becomes darker and foreboding. It even does some crazy things on its own. If there’s one thing Burton is a master of its making the settings in his films not only places, but living, breathing characters. Such is the case, here. It interacts with the others. Some of these others are gleefully odd human beings. The question that lingers throughout is: is any of this real, or is it all a figment of Ed’s imagination?

The screenplay is expertly written, keeping us off-balance and just as desperate as Will to get to the bottom of things. Within our quest for the truth, we witness a father and son dealing with their issues. The women in their lives largely offer support to their men from the sidelines. In other movies, this might seem sexist, or at least neglectful. Here they, and we, realize any resolution to Ed and Will’s problems with each other has to come from them with as little interference as possible. What we also find are little morsels of humor. They’re subtle, often light and occasionally morbid in true Burton fashion.

The one knock I have on BF is that our ending is too easy. However, this is also in keeping with what Burton usually does. His visuals contains lots of oddities and things more than slightly askew. Still, he maintains mainstream appeal with easily digestable tales that strive to be heartwarming. This is, but it seems to do so by abandoning the idea of doing what it seems to set out to: challenging our beliefs about reality and fantasy. This is still an excellent film, it just feels like it could be much more.

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