Monday, June 28, 2004

Movie Review: Big Fish

United States, 2003
U.S. Release Date: 12/10/03 (limited); 12/25/03 (wide)
Running Time: 2:00
Rated: PG-13 (Nudity, mild profanity)
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Buscemi, Danny DeVito, Matthew McGrory, Marion Cotillard

Director: Tim Burton
Producers: Richard D. Zanuck, Bruce Cohen, Dan Jinks
Screenplay: John August, based on the novel by Daniel Wallace
Music: Danny Elfman
Studio: Columbia Pictures

Posted by Hello
Big Fish is far from being a commercial production; it may appear as just another one of Tim Burton’s zany pictures, but Big Fish is a fantastical feature that deserves a lot more credit than what it will receive from your everyday mainstream movie fan. Burton, a director whose visions are far more out of the ordinary when compared to most conventional movie men, takes the adapted screenplay written from Danny Wallace’s novel and gives it his atypical, yet enchanting touch. Although, one aspect of his latest accomplishment is not very “Burton-esque."

Big Fish is bright in all three contexts of the word--as defined in your Webster's. Unlike just about every one of Burton’s previous pictures, in which he has used darkness and cynicism to his advantage, Big Fish is dazzling, brilliant, and buoyant—a refreshing change of pace from Burton, and without question one of his best.

William Bloom (Billy Crudup) has spent his whole life listening to this father’s stories. When he was a kid, they were amusing and impressive, but now that he is all grown up, his father’s stories are nothing more than outlandish exaggerations. With William thinking his father, Edward (Albert Finney), is nothing but a liar with no sense of genuine truth and personality, the father and son part.

During this father-son split, William falls in love with a young French woman named Josephine (Marion Cotillard). William is hesitant to bring her home to meet his father and his fabrications, but some bad news arrives causing the three to unite sooner than expected. Edward is terminally ill. William travels home to see if he can look past the stories that he believes to be false and really get to know who his father is before his father passes from this world.

Meanwhile, we hear and view Edward’s many fairy tale stories, as the young Edward’s (Ewan McGregor) life is told before our eyes. From his birth and his major growth spurt, to his encounters with a future-telling witch (Helena Bonham Carter), a giant named Karl (Matthew McGrory), the tiny tent man Amos Calloway (Danny Devito), and of course the love of his life Sandra (Alison Lohman), Edward’s stories are stretched to a near Tall Tale nature.

This film is by far one of the best examples of casting actors who actually pass for the same character at different ages. For example, it is not hard to believe that Ewan McGregor’s young Edward grows up and fills out into Albert Finney’s older Edward. Also, the likeness between Jessica Lange’s Sandra and Alison Lohman’s is so close it’s almost creepy. It looks like Lohman was just placed in a forty year aging machine to become Lange. The resemblance here – partially accredited to the film’s hair and make-up squad – is so strong that it seems feasible that the two actresses actually share the same genes.

Besides the uncanny look-alike contest going on throughout the film, there are several actors’ portrayals worthy of merit, even though the cast isn’t exactly star-studded. Both Finney and McGregor play the part of Edward Bloom with such Southern pizzazz—basically sounding like Forrest Gump with a bit more embellishment and intelligence. Lohman, the stunning actress with loads of talent, is at the top of her game as usual; she is undoubtedly worth working a year with no wages and taking the beating of a lifetime for, as Edward did in the film. Adding to the mix, Steve Buscemi is an actor who is always a pleasure to have on staff, regardless of his role.

Truthfully, I was enchanted with most of the actors’ characters including the mini circus man with the wolf-white hair played by Devito, and Karl the Giant played by Matthew McGrory, who looks like Gheorghe Muresan with a slightly distorted skull. However, there are two actors whom I felt were both miscast and who lowered the level of the picture. Marion Cotillard, who plays Josephine, William’s fiancé, attempts her best Penelope Cruz voice and really just looks like a female version of Elijah Wood. Her role is just “there”—with no emotion and really nothing special to add. But, because of her limited screen time, Cotillard is only a minor discrepancy of mine. On the other hand, Billy Crudup’s role of William, one of the film’s main characters, is flat and for the most part forced. Maybe it is the fact that Crudup is the voice of the MasterCard commercials that had him distracting and annoying me throughout the film; I kept hearing his voice and just waited for him to interrupt a pause with “Priceless…There are some things money can’t buy…yadda, yadda, yadda.” In my opinion, Billy Crudup was bloody cruddy.

Despite its title and tremendous opening credits, Big Fish is not a story about fish in a Finding Nemo kind of way. Big Fish does however play the metaphor card endlessly when comparing the life of Edward to his biggest catch. Edward is compared to a goldfish as he grows to fit his environment—obviously intended for larger things outside of his small fishbowl of a home town, Ashton. His momma once told him, “The bigger fish gets that way by never being caught.” Edward, taking this advice, realizes that the ocean is open for him, and he swims freely and swiftly out into its vast waters.

Big Fish contains such an adventurous plot that it is easy to get caught up in the superlative storyline and completely miss the superb special effects. There are two scenes in particular that jut out. One: the dizzying dancing scene in town of Spectre, and two: the stopping of time scene when Edward approaches the love of his life through the still circus. Both scenes are very exquisite and wonderfully shot under Burton’s direction.

With Big Fish having been crowned the next Wizard of Oz by many, I am surprised that it didn’t earn any more nominations from the Academy. Big Fish churns your imagination enough to allow you to escape the pitiless and pessimistic ways of the real world. There is nothing fishy about it; Big Fish is an optimistic endeavor that is both big and fun. (***1/2 out of ****)

© Copyright Brandon Valentine 2004