||Ewan McGregor contemplates how he got to be so damn sexy while holding a key to the city and thinking about his car in Tim Burton’s “Big Fish.”
Directed by Tim Burton
Screenplay by John August, based on the novel by
Produced by Bruce Cohen and Dan Jinks
Starring Ewan McGregor, Billy Crudup, Albert Finney,
Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Helena Bonham Carter,
Robert Guillaume, Marion Cotillard, Matthew McGroy,
Steve Buscemi, Loudon Wainwright III, Ada Tai and
Ed Bloom tells a great story with flare, and everyone
loves him for it. Except, that is, his son Will,
who grew up with the stories and, in his father’s
later years, would rather learn the truth about his
father. This is the same effect Tim Burton’s
new film “Big Fish” has telling the story—we’re
amused, but eventually we wish we could get deeper
than the film is willing to go.
The film tells the story of Ed’s life through
a series of vignettes, told at various time periods,
whether to little Will at bedtime or by old Ed on
his deathbed. Albert Finney plays the old dying man
with enough spirit to still weave a fallacious life
legacy even as death looms.
Billy Crudup plays Will, who severs ties with his
father on his wedding night when Ed insists on telling
a long, false story about Will’s birth. It’s
the last thread in a quilt of lies, and Will doesn’t
speak to Ed again until receiving the news that he’s
The film progresses in a decidedly split manner.
The flashbacks of the film are usually enjoyable
bits of magical realism, yet the story involving
Will discovering his father’s life is decidedly
stagnant, failing to show any real relationship between
the father and son.
The film is directed by Tim Burton, who has probably
directed more average films than any director whose
work I look forward to viewing. His visual style
is always inventive and well thought out, but the
screenplays often cause problems with thin characters
and half-baked plots.
Here, the characters are well acted by Finney, Crudup,
Ewan McGregor, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman and Helena
Bonham Carter among others, but the stories do at
times run the risk of falling under their own preciousness.
The production design by Dennis Gassner and Burton’s
team of art directors isn’t as expressionistic
as in some of Burton’s more grotesque work,
and is closer in style to his best work, “Ed
Wood.” “Big Fish’s” flashbacks
have a certain old-time quality to them, recalling
old adventures and old urban legends.
As Ed during his lively youth, Ewan McGregor gleefully
goes on a series of adventures and tall tales, and
the film creates a nostalgia for those times when
things were as they never were. Ed goes on a U.S.
espionage mission against the Japanese in World War
II that’s set to a musical number performed
by conjoined twins. He impresses a woman with a field
full of roses. He also every so often meets a famous
poet (Steve Buscemi) who went missing from the public
eye years ago and does little writing—three
lines, to be precise.
The best moment in Ed’s stories is probably
the moment he sees and falls in love with his wife
(Alison Lohman in the past). Time stops as everyone
freezes—including the circus balancing act
and airborne popcorn—and he moves toward her,
only to see time speed up to “catch up with
itself.” This results in a long traveling residency
with the circus, doing odd jobs to get the circus
leader (Danny DeVito) to tell him about the woman.
These elements will doubtlessly attract people to
the film, as they are very well-made and consistently
The story line of Will trying to learn about his
father doesn’t really mesh well with the questionable
truths of Ed’s past. The film argues Will’s
points a bit too well to simply abandon them in what
seems like a thrown-together ending.
Despite the problems, however, Burton captures the
script about as well as it could have been captured.
If the film fails to be profound, its hero’s
alleged adventures provide a nice ride.