Based on the book of the same name by Daniel Wallace, Big Fish tells the story of a frustrated young man attempting to separate fact from fiction in his father’s outlandish autobiographical tales.
Starring a present day cast of Billy Crudup, Albert Finney, Marion Cotillard and Jessica Lange, with Ewan McGregor in the lead role of film’s historical segments, it also features Helena Bonham Carter, Danny Devito and Steve Buscemi in supporting roles.
Not content to coast on star power alone, Tim Burton’s signature weirdness is prevalent throughout, except in much more colourful capacity than usual. There’s far more Edward Scissorhands than there is Corpse Bride, and although Big Fish does carry a vague Burtonesque stamp, you could be forgiven for missing his involvement entirely. Usually, Burton’s unique brand of quirky gothic style is enough to set his films apart, although here, his slightly warmer approach strikes all the right chords.
As a result, Big Fish is one of the most disarming movies out there. Its ability to mix colourful fairytale storytelling with a Southern Gothic style makes for a visually unique and spectacular piece of film that’s enchanting and truly unforgettable.
Ewan McGregor is so perfectly cast as young Alabama native Edward Bloom – as weird as it may seem given his Scottish roots – and his non-threatening charm makes him an instantly lovable hero in each and every scene. McGregor delivers an appropriate warmth to the role, something which sets his audience so at ease that it’s all too easy to forget that he’s a story within a story, an embellished version of a relatively ordinary man.
In spite of its sweet, good-natured tone, Big Fish grapples with some pretty hefty themes. The core of the movie is the strained relationship between the terminally ill Edward Bloom and his adult son Will, with the latter attempting to gain some closure by getting the whole truth of his father’s life after a lifetime of listening to his tall tales. Both Burton and screenwriter John August admitted that the father-son relationship depicted in the film rang particularly true for them, and that sense of personal experience translates well through the screen – it’s hard not to relate to both Edward and Will; one that tries to enrich life by injecting a little magic after the fact, and one that’s hopelessly grounded and practical.
It’s a beautiful story, brought to life in beautiful fashion. But, although much of the movie’s charm is in its wonderful weirdness, it’s remarkably poignant and says a lot about life, love, and human nature.
Summary: Big Fish is a singularly strange experience. Equal parts bizarre and beautiful, it might be a little too saccharine for many palates, although it’s hard to deny its charm and its emotional draw as a beautifully, colourfully Gothic piece of feel-good film.