January 13, 2004  
Volume 97, Issue 56  

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Burton’s latest Fish makes a fantastic catch

Big Fish
Directed by: Tim Burton
Starring: Albert Finney, Ewan McGregor, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Danny Devito, Steve Buscemi

By Brent Carpenter
Gazette Staff

Columbia Pictures/2003
LOOK AT ALL THE PRETTY LIGHTS! The stars shine on Ewan McGregor, who stars in Tim Burton’s Big Fish — one of the few McGregor films where he doesn’t show his big... you know.

Edward Bloom (Finney) has spent much of his life recounting tales of adventures to those around him, most notably his son Will (Crudup). However, Will grows tired of his father’s stories, finding it impossible to relate to a man he only knows through fairy tales and exaggerated delusions of grandeur.

As a result, the film opens with Will estranged from his father, working as a journalist in Paris. Upon receiving word that Edward is laying on his deathbed, Will returns home and attempts to finally separate the fact from the fiction of his father’s past.

The basic idea of Fish is that every person is remembered through stories, and Edward Bloom has more stories than a person can possibly remember. For Edward, it’s all in the telling. The majority of the film takes place through flashbacks, as the elderly Edward makes use of the attention he receives from his illness by once again narrating some of his favorite tales.

The younger Edward is played at various ages by McGregor, keen on reminding audiences that he’s more than Obi Wan Kenobi; Big Fish is a solid addition to the list of his non-Star Wars hits.

It’s also good to see Burton directing a script that aspires to more than just visuals. One of the most consistently imaginative and all-around successful (financially and critically) directors in Hollywood, Burton’s ability to direct from a strong screenplay actually seems limited. Ed Wood and Edward Scissorhands are exceptions. The remainder of his films are mainly about production value and entertainment — Beetle Juice, the two Batman films and Sleepy Hollow come to mind.

A film about storytelling, however, has to start with an intriguing story. Fortunately, Edward’s stories are so fantastical they allow Burton to explore the strange visual environments that helped to make him — the subject of his own discourse in the first place.
Big Fish is so light-hearted you often forget about the dark subject matter at the centre of the story. You get caught up in Edward’s past adventures forgetting that his own personal story is coming to a close. To some, the parallel narratives might not complement each other as much as they should, as some areas of the film seem slightly disjointed.

Like Will, viewers may begin to feel as though Edward’s stories go a little overboard; then again, that may be the point.

As far as performances go, Finney is the anchor of the film. British-born Finney sounds as if he has a Southern accent; the majority of the film’s cast sound as if they’re doing a Southern accent. That’s still not to say they aren’t effective in their roles. Crudup (Almost Famous) works well in a role that calls for him to be more conflicted than likeable, and Alison Lohman (White Oleander, Matchstick Men) is cast perfectly. She seems to have come out of nowhere in the past year; hopefully she’ll stick around for a while. Lange, a veteran actress, also does a good job with a limited role as Will’s mother.

Edward’s idea seems to be that even the most fantastical fictions are based on truth. There’s obvious metaphorical significance to much of what’s in the film, and what’s not acting as a metaphor will probably be made so through endless debate and deconstruction of Burton’s unique visual style.

In the end, Big Fish isn’t really as deep and philosophical as it is simply a straightforward, good-hearted modern fairy tale. Though it may come off as strange to some, the over-the-top feel and great supporting cast — not to mention its mostly unique and interesting visuals — make it a strong catch.



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