Movie of the Day – Big Fish
July 23, 2012 7 Comments
Tim Burton is a director that I seem to be torn between liking and hating his work. I think he is currently stuck in this MOMA exhibit of a career where he just takes old properties and adds a veneer of Gothic, Hot Topic look and makes Johnny Depp dress up in weird clothes and acts frilly. He does the same thing again and again, which gets tiring to watch as he can make amazing movies without having to resort to the old stable of characters, thematic elements, familiar score and overly gothic imagery.
Today’s film proves that he can evolve and present us something amazing and unique, while still retaining what makes him the director that we are familiar with. Big Fish is a film that manages to take all the familiar tones of a Burton film, but present in a way that blends all those elements together to tell a beautiful narrative with a Southern, Gothic fantasy twist that lends well to his talents.
Billy Crudup plays William Bloom, a young man who never really knew his dying father, Edward (Albert Finney) outside of the tall tales he told about growing up, making his way, and meeting his mother (played as a young woman by Alison Lohman and in older age by Jessica Lange). During Edward’s last days, William and his wife Josephine (Marion Cotillard) hold bedside vigil as the old man recollects elaborate memories of his youth (in which he is played by Ewan McGregor). Still doubting the the legends and folklore, William makes a journey to meet a mysterious woman (Helena Bonham Carter) from whom Edward had bought property. Steve Buscemi and Danny De Vito also star. ~ Andrea LeVasseur, Rovi
If you didn’t know, like I did, that Big Fish was actually based off a fantasy novel entitled “Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions” by Southern writer/illustrator Daniel Wallace, I would have taken this as an original piece from Burton. That doesn’t diminish this film one bit, as the a story like this needs the little flourishes of fantasy that Burton can do very well. This time he has a bigger canvas to explore more rosy imagery, indulging in over the top set pieces because the story calls for them. It’s about a father telling a big story, something magically grandiose and thus calls for the indulgence of director that can deliver big images and fantasy inspired settings.
Big Fish is really one of the more developed offerings from Burton. He has come out of that comfortable coffin of familiarity to him, took his bag of trick and managed to use them to great effect. But it’s not all circle jerking the style of the film, as the substance and thematic element plays to his wheelhouse. The story of a father and son (estranged family dynamics is a Burton staple) learning about one another hits the heart perfectly. Billy Crudup plays the son William Bloom, an estranged son to Edward Bloom, played brilliantly by Albert Finney. Their scenes together just hit the right emotional cords of a son trying to understand the man who he knew too little about. Finney spins a beautiful yarn of fantasy stories, the sort of tall tales that are meant to be awe-inspiring to young kids when you tell them about life. It’s the larger than life storytelling that sells the disconnect between Crudup’s understanding of who his father is amongst the grand, partly made up stories.
While Finney and Crudup the most emotional moments of a life well lived, the films crutch depends on Ewan McGregor as the younger version of Edward. The wide eyed wonderment from McGregor does well within in the fantasy context of the film and he is endearing in each little fantasy vignette. Alison Lohman and Jessica Lange play the younger and older version of Edward’s true love. The characters truly make the film, inhabiting and ground the folksy visuals and lore of myth within the story. It helps us make that personal connection of love, loss, and morality.
This is the sort of film that Burton needs to make again. It plays to his wheelhouse of directorial touches, but is also one of the more satisfying stories he has tackled. His auteur nature lends well to the folklore of the fables and stories that Edward describes, but the casting and acting brings the little nuances of heart and emotional connecting needed to get the audience to feel involved with the film. I will be honest, this is one of ten movie that will get me to cry. It’s a touching story about reconnecting with a father, something that every son goes through at some point or another. For me, this is a perfect movie that blends that magical essence of fantasy imagery with a grounded story of a father retelling the bedtime stories he told his son, only building up the fantasy and offering something larger than life that you can lose yourself in.
*images via RottenTomatoes