BIG FISH

4 Stars
Year Released: 2003
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running Time: 125 minutes
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“Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) ‘Ever to confess you’re bored
means you have no
Inner Resources.'”

Dream Song #14, John Berryman

Edward Bloom, the charismatic spinner of ripping yarns at the center of Tim Burton’s wonderful new film, ranks among the most remarkable movie characters to appear in years. In attempting to provide a context and motive for his embellishments, reviewers have invoked everything from the southern tradition of tall tales, folk fables and Homer to ancient mythology but I think Berryman’s poem hits the nail sufficiently close to the head. Born with inner resources to burn and understanding that most people’s lives could use a dash or two of spice, Bloom regards it his gentlemanly duty to reinvent the world as a place richer in possibility, poetry and outright magic for their pleasure. As sort of a public service.

Based on the bestselling novel by Daniel Wallace, “Big Fish” features faultless performances from Ewan McGregor and Albert Finney as younger and older incarnations of the character. As reinterpreted for the screen by writer John August, the story is propelled by a grown son’s (Billy Crudup) exasperated search for the truth behind his father’s larger than life life story.

Finney, we learn, is pretty much on his death bed and Crudup, who works in Paris as a journalist, has returned home with his French bride to make peace with and get to the bottom of his old man, a garrulous charmer whose tales he’s heard more than a few too many times. Through a variety of devices, the viewer is regaled with Bloom’s odyssey and most of the movie consists of its reinaction in flashback.

Think The Arabian Nights meets Grimm’s Fairy Tales with just a touch of Forrest Gump and The Wizard of Oz tossed in for good measure. If he’s to be believed, Bloom’s journey was extraordinary from the start. Expelled from his mother like a pudgy cannon ball, he later underwent such a medical marvel of a growth spurt that he was forced to spend three years suspended in a bizarre hammock-like contraption-which Burton clearly had a field day realizing-while his bones and muscles adjusted to one another and he absorbed the entire World Book
Encyclopedia, nurturing a wanderlust that would take him far from his hometown of Ashton, Alabama.

As he looks back on his days, colorful encounters with giants, a one-eyed witch, a werewolf, conjoined Korean twin singers, a mermaid and a bankrobbing poet take a back seat to his most significant adventure, the meeting, wooing and winning of his wife, played by Alison Lohman and Jessica Lange. For all its phantasmagoria and fantasy, Burton’s latest turns out to be a love story and a singularly touching one at that.
Which is one of the reasons “Big Fish” may very well be the best film the director has made. I’m not sure Burton has ever struck as assured a balance between visual invention and the exploration of mature, warm blooded themes. On the heels of artistic travesties like “Mars Attacks!,” “Sleepy Hollow” and
“Planet of the Apes,” a simple return to form would have been cause for celebration. An achievement of this magnitude is a stunning and extremely pleasant surprise.

And its many surprises should be left for audiences to discover. So suffice it to say that everything from August’s script to Danny Elfman’s score is unimprovable. The cast, which also includes Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Buscemi,
Robert Guillaume, Danny DeVito and Matthew McGrory (who really does have the world’s most gigantic feet according to Guinness), is uniformly winning. The tale it tells may be the tallest to hit screens in some time but there’s no shortage of human truth in it. “Big Fish,” believe me, is one you shouldn’t let get away.



Posted on January 5, 2004 in Reviews by
Buffer


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