Although I have seen this movie and read the book before, I had almost completely forgotten everything about it. I remembered the basic premise: a man tells his son tall tales about his life, and after his death his son learns that there is more truth to these stories than he thought. It’s odd that I’d forget so much about this story, as it reminds me so much of my grandfather.
My Grampy was much like Big Fish‘s protagonist Ed Bloom– always telling tall tales about his life. A particular favorite was the story of how his grandfather, grandmother, and infant father immigrated from Canada to the United States. According to Grampy, his grandfather put the baby in the cast iron stove, strapped the stove to his back, had his wife sit on top the stove, and then he swam across the St. John River with them all. Obviously the journey didn’t happen exactly like this, but it’s a funny story. And in a way, I prefer it to whatever the real story may be. It may only have a sliver of truth to it, but that’s OK. It reminds me what a silly, fun personality my grandfather had, which is personally more real and important.
I think my grandfather would have enjoyed this movie. The visuals are both gorgeous and over-the-top, perfect for an ode to the American tall tale. He always enjoyed the more fantastical movies my sister and I would bring over (Jumanji, anything Disney), and the special effects here would have delighted him. This is definitely a Tim Burton film, but showcases a softer, gentler side of the director than we typically get see. At its heart, Big Fish is a love story for fathers and sons, a topic Burton has never tackled. This film makes me wish he’d delve into lighter drama a bit more. He’s obviously great at it.
I also have to give a shout out to the cast, particularly Ewan McGregor. I love McGregor, and he is as handsome and charming as ever as the young Ed Bloom. My only criticism is that his Southern accent is a bit unconvincing, but I probably feel this way because I’m well acquainted with his Scottish brogue. As a Northerner/Californian I’m also programmed to hate Southern accents, but McGregor almost convinces me that it’s sexy. He’s just that good.
This is the closest we are going to get to a drama from Tim Burton. It’s a dramatic film, but still retains the quirky humour and weird characters that Burton is known for. The film is not as dark and gothic as many of his other films, but it works.
The film revolves around Edward Bloom (he’s played by Albert Finney as an old man, but Ewan McGregor when he is younger). Bloom is an eccentric young boy from a small country town in America’s South. He had been a star in his small town, but when he decides to venture out into the real world after high school he realises he’s no longer a ‘big fish in a small pond.’ The film shows Bloom’s journey to adulthood. He meets his wife while working in a travelling circus and eventually has to go off to the Korean War after he is drafted. The movie is told in flashback form and Bloom’s son has always believed his father’s stories to be false. He eventually realises they are not as fake as he believed.
This movie is really well made. It has a stellar cast. McGregor and Finney are joined by accomplished actors like Jessica Lange, Danny DeVito, Billy Crudup, Marion Cottilard and (surprise, surprise) Helena Bonham Carter. It’s also nice to see Burton make something so different than what we are used to as an audience. This was a pretty big risk for him to depart from his tried and true gothic comedy, but he does a good job. I really liked how Edwards’s tales seemed so unbelievable at first, but you slowly realise many of them were real, or at least not complete fabrications.