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"Big Fish" - Movie Review

"Big Fish" - Movie Review

Genre:  Drama

Rating:  PG-13 (for a fight scene, some images of nudity and a suggestive reference)

Release Date:  December 10, 2003 (LA/NY/Toronto)

Actors:  Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Danny DeVito, Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Buscemi, Billy Crudup, Alison Lohman, Hailey Anne Nelson, Robert Guillaume, Marion Cotillard

Director:  Tim Burton

Special Notes:  Burton was inspired to do this story after the death of his father while he was scouting for “Planet of the Apes” in 2000. His mother passed away last year. Burton said making this movie was therapeutic and “a way of exploring that, otherwise those feelings would’ve just kept swirling around.”

Plot:  Will Bloom (Crudup) grew-up listening to his father tell tall tales about his life, he used to love those stories.  But when it came to knowing who his father truly was or anything real about his past, Will couldn’t honestly say he knew. So when Will learned that his father Edward (Finney) was terminally ill, it seemed only fitting that he bring his pregnant wife and spend some quality time trying to dig beneath the layers of fables, stories and tall tales, and learn the truth about his dad. In turn, he would then have answers about his own life. When Will confronts his dad and demands the truth, Edward is hurt and replies that he’s always told his son the truth. He then proceeds to once again lay out his life before his son, telling stories about looking into a witch's eye when he was a young boy, befriending a gentle giant whom he led out of town to find work, going to war and saving lives, finding conjoined twin lounge singers for a circus act, landing in a tree with his car after a flood and of course, the one about the big fish that always got away. McGregor plays the younger Ed throughout these flashback scenes. Will looks to his mother, Sandra (Lange), for comfort as he come to terms with who his father really was and discovers truths about the people whose lives were affected and positively changed because of him. 

Good:  This is a powerful fable about family told by the master of storytelling, director Tim Burton (Legend of Sleepy Hollow, Batman, James and the Giant Peach). He has skillfully woven a serious plot into a bizarre tale, adapted from the best-selling novel of the same name. It’s hard to explain this movie because it’s half reality, half fables. It’s a romantic-adventure that combines storytelling with reality and constantly mixes real characters with imaginary ones. There are father/son moments that will make you cry, a couple of romantic scenes that reinforce marriage and monogamy and profound metaphors about life and its journey. An incredible cast weaves the past with the present, fable with reality, giving us a unique story that blends fairytale, romance and adventure with a profound message on the importance of life and living it to its fullest. In short, the theme of this movie is how one man made a difference in people's lives and made this world a better place for his fellow man. This is one of those movies that took me awhile to warm up to because it’s so unusual, bizarre, and I’m not always a fan of Burton. After the credits rolled, I couldn’t stop thinking or talking about it -- and that’s when I realized it was a good story. Immediately after the screening several of us (critics) went to a restaurant and sat around and discussed the symbolism and meaning of this movie for hours. We each ended up sharing about our father -- who they were, what they were like when they were young, what were their dreams for their families and themselves. It was one of the most interesting discussions I’ve had in a long time and the kind you can’t manufacture easily. I need to mention that this is not a “Christian” movie, but the story does have biblical values:  a loving husband/wife monogamous relationship, Will’s realization that his father had a generous heart and financially helped an entire town get back on its feet and he was loyal to his family. If you can get beyond the quirky characters, strange subplots and sometimes dark moments, then you’ll probably enjoy this bizarre, funny, exotic, poignant, profound, hard-to-explain tale. Catch this one. Don’t let it get away! And take tissues; you’ll probably need one.

Bad:  This is a movie for mature teens (over 17) to adults because of the adult storyline and use of obscenities. I don’t think teenagers will really “get it” (like they did “Edward Scissorhands” or “Planet of the Apes”) because it takes someone who has lived life and understands the complex issues (love, death, monogamy, parenthood) to appreciate what this movie has to say about them. The brief, partial nudity refers to two scenes:  Edward is underwater and spots what looks like a woman swimming in the nude (it’s blurred, but he thinks she’s a fish). DeVito is a circus ringmaster who changes into a wolf (not a werewolf) at night and runs into the forest after Will surprises him. The next morning we briefly see a shot of DeVito in the buff walking back to the circus from the forest -- nothing gratuitous or sexual at all -- just a brief rear shot of him walking. There are a couple of scuffles, and one of the major fight scenes consists of a boy hitting Edward because of a girl.

Bottom Line:  Burton has created a timeless classic for adults that will reel you in with a hook of hope, heart and humanity. It’s a story that will deeply touch fathers and sons, husbands and wives and ultimately reinforces the true meaning of family and friends -- but again, it does so in Tim Burton style which may not appeal to everyone. “Big Fish” is a big movie. It will keep you talking and thinking about it long after you leave the theater!