As a filmmaker, Tim Burton has always been a bit of a contradiction. On one hand, his bizarre and offbeat style of filmmaking has always attracted fans of unconventional movies.
On the other hand, he has a knack for putting his weirdness into a feel good, fairy tale type story. His movies attract all types of audiences – Edward Scissorhands and The Nightmare Before Christmas are good examples of this.
Big Fish, however, finds Burton reaching a new level of marketability while still totally maintaining his offbeat style. Happily, it is a very good movie, and Burton has once again proven that mainstream Hollywood fare does not have to be sugarcoated and watered down.
The premise of the film is simple. Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) is a dying old man. He has never been able to have a quality relationship with his son Will (Billy Crudup) because he makes up what seems to be extraordinary lies about his life and experiences. Worst off, Edward has repeated these tales at so many inappropriate times that Will can recite them by heart.
When Will learns Edward is near death, he travels back home with his pregnant wife Josephine (Marion Cotillard), presumably to be there with his father for his last days and to comfort his mother Sandra (Jessica Lange) when the inevitable finally happens. Will also begins a personal quest to get the truth out of his father about his life experiences.
Through flashbacks, we see Edward’s stories come to life. Meanwhile, in the present, Will slowly begins to uncover some clues which indicate that maybe all of his father’s tall tales may not be made up.
The flashbacks are the centerpiece of the film, as we see young Edward (Ewan McGregor) go through a serious of adventures, each one more absurd than the last. The surprise is in seeing what comes next, but before all is said and done, a giant, a witch and a two-headed Asian lounge singer have all come into play. A regular moviegoer will also recognize a slew of familiar faces, including Danny DeVito and Steve Buscemi.
Throughout Burton’s elaborate fairy tale, there is one connecting thread: the lovely and touching romance between Edward and Sandra (played as a young woman by Alison Lohman). From the moment Edward sees Sandra, he knows she is “the one,” and this courtship/marriage adds some human interest to the movie amongst all the other outlandish things going on.
The one small shortcoming of the movie is the end. The ending works well with the movie as a whole, but fans may be a bit unsatisfied. The ending of the movie becomes a tad vague and doesn’t offer much closure.
But this is not a movie about narrative. It is more about taking a vivid journey along with characters through the mind of a truly great director.
Chuck DelRoss can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org