Big Fish

It's usually pretty hard to tell, but Tim Burton is a real softy. Lurking within the dark images of his movies are sentimental human themes, and it takes a movie like Big Fish to strip away the monochromatic color schemes and twisted imagery to reveal a nice, warm, heart, wrapped in beautiful yellows and reds. Big Fish is an adaptation of the novel by Daniel Wallace, about a son trying to reconcile with his father. Will Bloom (Billy Crudup, Charlotte Gray, World Traveler) never got along with or understood his father Ed (Albert Finney, Traffic, Erin Brockovich). Ed enjoyed telling stories of his youth, grand stories full of witches, giants, Siamese twins, and love at first sight. Now, Ed is dying, and Will's wife Josephine (Marion Cotillard, Love Me If You Dare, A Private Affair) is pregnant. Will wants a true picture of his father before his death, so he can tell his son who his dad 'truly' was.

This is basically a plot device that Burton (Planet of the Apes, Sleepy Hollow) and adapter John August (Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Charlie's Angels) use to allow them to tell a variety of stories from Ed's past. All these vignettes are framed by the older Ed and Will, Josephine, and Ed's wife Sandra (Jessica Lange, Masked and Anonymous, Titus). The magic of Big Fish lies in its stories, with a younger Ed (Ewan McGregor, Down with Love, Attack of the Clones) leaving his small town to explore the world. As the title implies, Ed is a big fish in a small pond, and wants to explore the world to see what is out there. McGregor plays Ed with wide-eyed enthusiasm; nothing ever gets him down.

One of the great things about Burton is that he does things his own way. He has a vivid imagination that comes to life with Ed's stories. This makes his movies unlike those of other directors. When he sees a younger Sandra (Alison Lohman, Matchstick Men, White Oleander), time literally stands still as McGregor walks though a circus with people frozen around him, brushing aside confetti from the air. He vows to marry her, although he does not know a thing about her, especially that she is engaged. The Ed character is something of a superhero. He is smart, strong, hardworking, and not afraid of anything. When a giant (Matthew McGrory, House of 1000 Corpses, Bubble Boy) arrives in town, he fearlessly approaches him and extends his hand in friendship. For Ed, everything is always hunky-dory, and there is nothing that hard work cannot solve. It's an unbelievably sunny attitude, and instantly infectious.

The set design is what sets Big Fish apart. The colors are bright, and everything looks like it comes from a vivid dream. The past looks a tad off kilter, similar to the bizarre suburbia of Edward Scissorhands, or the world of The Cat in the Hat minus the gaudiness, and it all contributes to the fairytale-like atmosphere of the film. This is how Ed wants to remember his life, fighting for the love of Sandra, parachuting into enemy territory, and meeting all sorts of quirky, warm characters along the way. The only 'bad guy' is Will, who refuses to believe any of the stories. There is a streak of melancholy running through Crudup's performance. To him, his father's stories are a bunch of lies, told to cover up some hidden shame. For Ed, the stories are his life. Finney and McGregor, as well as Lange and Lohman, actually bear a passing resemblance to each other, helping to cement the illusion that Burton set ups. All of them are extremely talented actors (well, except for Lohman who doesn't have too much to do) and they bring their own sense of life and zest to their roles. Although Finney has a sense of resignation about him, he is still feisty in his old age. As Big Fish nears its end, it becomes even more magical, a sort of This Is Your Life, building to a strong emotional crescendo. It is highly emotional but never approaches the level of sappy, and it takes someone like Burton to make material like this work.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
2 hours, 5 minutes, Rated PG-13 for a fight scene, some images of nudity, and a suggestive reference.

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