Directed by: Tim Burton
Written by: John August
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup
Released: 9 January 2004
No spoilers to be found here!
Director Tim Burton is know for making rather odd movies, usually with a gothic tone and weird characters. This is why Big Fish is such a different film for the director, as it is very much a human drama grounded in reality, as well as a colorful adventure. But don’t let this scare you off, while Big Fish isn’t some of the best work Tim Burton has ever done, it is one that I will remember for quite some time.
Ed Bloom (played by both Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney as a young and old version respectively) has throughout his entire life told the most fantastical stories of his adventures from his youth. His adult son Will Bloom (played by Billy Crudup) finally has enough of these made up stories and breaks off contact with him. Three years later Ed Bloom is on his death bed and his son goes back to see him. During his father’s final weeks, he tells his wife (played by Marion Cotillard) all the wonderful tales of young Ed Bloom.
As you can tell from the description, the movie works on two storylines at once, one set in the present day with Ed Bloom dying and the other one being the adventures of his youth, as told by his son. These storylines are wildly different, both in overall structure but also tonally different. Where the present day is more bleak and dramatic, the youth-storyline is full of adventure and strange characters and fun scenarios. At first I was a bit taken aback by how unlike these storylines are and thought it felt a bit dis-conjuncted, but then I realized that was the point. The present day is happening right now and should be realistic, whereas the youth is a told story and should therefore be a bit fantastical and exotic. Once you get used to it, it makes for a great blend of tone that actually works very well for the story and overall message of the film. And even though both of the storylines are very different, they are also very good in their own right. I personally enjoyed the past more, as it felt more creative and fun, but I did also like the more serious present-storyline. It wasn’t as original, but it discussed important subjects in a nuanced way and connected back to the past in some very smart ways. The ending also binds the storylines together in a perfect way that even made me tear up a bit. The director, Tim Burton, has stated that Big Fish was very special to him as both of his parents had recently died when starting production, and you can feel that passion for the screenplay when watching the movie.
The movie stars a lot of different actors all giving great performances, but the standout is Ewan McGregor as young Ed Bloom. He is optimistic, outgoing and always has a smile on his face. He comes from a small village, but wants to go on an adventure and experience new things in life. This may sound as a pretty standard adventurous protagonist, and he is, but what makes Ed special is Ewan McGregor. He plays the character with so much energy and enthusiasm, as well as a childish sense of wonder of the world he explores, you can’t help but like him. Not a terribly original character, but a greatly executed one.
The other actors all give good performances, but none of the bigger characters make a huge impression. The ones from the present day all play characters you have seen before and reacts as any other persons would in their circumstances. Nothing that I will remember for a long time, but I think that everybody did a good job with what they where given. But where the movie shines is in the past-storyline, with Ed going on his grand adventure. Throughout his journey he meets a lot of different characters who all have some special quirks that makes them memorable. It almost feels like a Coen-brothers movie in these sections, with strange characters that would fit within their movies. There are at least a handful of imaginative and memorable characters, and while all play pretty small parts, they make the past-storyline interesting and keeps it fresh.
The movie has a very interesting message about when to separate fact from fiction, and when not to. As stated earlier, the movie discusses this topic throughout the entire runtime and comes to a great conclusion in it’s ending. I don’t think this subject gets talked about enough and I really thought it was well executed in Big Fish. It made me think more about how to tell stories, should I spice it with some fun extras or keep it strictly to the truth? Even the fact that I am writing this paragraph is a testimony to the great things Big Fish has to say about it, and it is worth thinking about.
While I did say that the past-storyline was my favorite, mainly because of its adventurousness and creativity, I do think that it went a little far in a few places. While most of this storyline is relevant to the plot of the movie, there are also a few scenes that don’t really add anything to the story or characters. They usually introduce a new scenario with a new characters and then spends quite a bit of time showing Ed interacting with it. When the scene is done, Ed goes on to a new place and does something different, without having the previous scene add anything important to the story. It feels like all these scenes where added because they had fun characters and setups, but since they don’t bring anything to the movie, they do come of as a bit gimmicky. These parts of the movie where the only ones where I started to become a bit bored. A lot of them could either have been shortened or even removed, and the movie wouldn’t have suffered much. I get that you want to build up this strange exaggerated world, but I don’t think all of this was needed, as the tone of the storyline was already firmly set. I wanted to see more of our main characters interacting and pushing the actual story forward, not watching a guy waiting for three years doing something mindless until he pushed the story forward.
Another thing that irritated me was with a twist that came later on in the story. I just didn’t get it, and had to rewind and watch again to understand what was happening, but I still didn’t. After the movie I looked up online to try to solve this mystery, but still no idea. Luckily it isn’t a big part of the story, just something that confused me and lessened my enjoyment of the story a bit. This may not at all be a flaw, since there probably is a logical answer to this that I just didn’t get.
Big Fish is a very special film from Tim Burton, it is unlike his previous works and feels very heartfelt. Burton had a personal connection to the screenplay and you can tell. It is a unique story that manages to combine two wildly different storylines and make them fit together remarkably well. While the present-story is well executed, it is the colorful past that I will remember for it’s quirkiness and imagination. Ewan McGregor is great as Ed Bloom and captures the essence of the happy explorer. While the supporting cast isn’t amazing, everybody does their job well and there are some truly unique characters in the film. The movie does drag on a bit during the past-storyline, as it seems a few to many scenes without any real substance are included, and they do detract from the enjoyment. I also found the twist later on a bit confusing with no real answer to it. The movie does however tie everything up nicely and has a lot of interesting things to say about fact and fiction. Maybe not one of Tim Burton’s best, but surely one of his most unique films.
Cover image source: http://choualbox.com/