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Big Fish
2003 - PG13 - 125 Mins.
Director: Tim Burton
Producer: Richard Zanuck
Written By: John August, Daniel Wallace
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Billy Crudup, Helena Bonham-Carter
Review by: Harrison Cheung
‘A Life Less Ordinary’ could have been a suitable subtitle to ‘Big Fish’, the latest from director Tim Burton who has given us some memorable and unusual work like ‘Beetlejuice’, ‘Pee-Wee Herman’s Big Adventure’ and the first and best of the ‘Batman’ movies. For the moviegoer looking for the offbeat, ‘Big Fish’ has the right ingredients – Ewan McGregor (determined to choose roles that battle any mainstream sensibilities), some otherworldly special effects, and a rich and varied cast that includes Albert Finney, Helena Bonham-Carter, Jessica Lange, and Billy Crudup.

Coincidentally, ‘Big Fish’ opens wide across North America around the same time ‘Peter Pan’ does. The two movies have some similar themes and interpretations about escapism and a refusal to accept reality - one for kids, one for sullen adults.

Based on the novel by Daniel Wallace, ‘Big Fish’ is narrated by Will Bloom (Billy Crudup), an angry young man long alienated from his father Edward (played by Albert Finney as a senior and by Ewan McGregor as a young man). Will has a huge chip on his shoulder because he was tired, bored, and resentful of his father’s tall tales of the fantastic. Edward, a traveling salesman, treated his adventures around the country with vivid imagination, but had the unfortunate tendency to tell a couple of these fantastic yarns over and over until Will left home and stopped talking to his father for a number of years. Edward probably didn’t realize that he was also a very absent father.

On his father’s deathbed, Will returns to Alabama and Edward retells his stories again as a final oral biography. These stories are beautifully brought to life with Tim Burton’s expert eye. The South looks both nostalgic and magical. We learn how a young Edward (McGregor) made his way around the South, how he met his wife and fell in love, and how he caught a giant catfish. ‘Big Fish’ asks the viewers to accept Edward’s stories on different levels. As a sweet father-son story, ‘Big Fish’ is the mellowing of a bitter, hardened son to see the stories for what they may or may not be – either actual events or simply the way a man coped through an ordinary life.

‘Big Fish’ has a couple minor problems. Can you imagine the slight McGregor growing up to become the beefy Finney? And ever since ‘Down With Love’, McGregor’s ability to do American accents is clearly limited. He’s also a couple years too old to be playing the young, bright-eyed innocent. And some of Edward’s stories are tedious – it’s like politely listening to a drunk or a senior citizen ramble on about the good old days, told through the thickest rose-colored glasses you can imagine. There's also a logic error - especially given how much of a braggart Edward has become in his old age. A big juicy secret isn't revealed until the end of the movie and the more I thought about the revelation, the more it didn't seem in character.

Jessica Lange is a great asset to the film, as the patient, loving and yet long-suffering wife. But ‘Big Fish’ tries very hard to wash away any cynicism to become a grown-up’s fairy tale and a ‘Joy Luck Club’ for fathers and sons.

Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

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