Friday, December 21, 2012

Big Fish Movie Review

Tim Burton films are kind of hit or miss. In recent years he's been doing little more than directing unnecessary remakes. These have served little purpose other than showcasing his unique and weird art style. Tim Burton isn't a bad director; his remakes are enjoyable enough, but have seemed uninspired lately. He's written and directed several films of his own design that were very good; Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice come to mind. Big Fish (2003) is much more grounded than his other recent films, and doesn't feature his signature art style as much.
William Bloom (Billy Crudup) never really knew his father, Edward (Albert Finney) outside of the tall tales he told Will about growing up, making his way in the world, and meeting his mother (Alison Lohman as a young woman, and Jessica Lange in older age). Will and his young wife, Josephine (Marion Cotillard), are summoned from their home in Paris to Will's old home in Alabama after Edward's health takes a turn for the worse. He's not expected to live much longer, so William and Josephine hold bedside vigil as the old man recollects elaborate tales of his youth (in which he is played by Ewan McGregor). Still doubting all the legend and folklore he heard growing up, William makes a journey to meet a mysterious woman (Helena Bonham Carter) from whom Edward had bought property. Even as Will meets people from his father's past, it's still impossible for him to separate fact from myth, and Will fears losing his father without ever really knowing him.
Tim Burton likes telling stories that play on creepiness coupled with cuteness. The Nightmare Before Christmas and Corpse Bride come to mind; they feature spindly characters with huge, sunken eyes; the sets are strewn with hard angles, spirals, and stripes. Even in live action films, these visuals appear regularly and are Tim Burton's signature style. Big Fish doesn't have this kind of style, and indeed, classic “Tim-Burton-isms” don't manifest very strongly in Big Fish. It almost seems like he was going in a new direction with Big Fish, though he quickly reverted back to his old style once Charlie and the Chocolate Factory came out. This refreshing change of pace gave the movie a much more grounded feel, in spite of the surreal visuals used in Edward's many tall tales.
Big Fish draws inspiration from a lot of fairy tale and myth. Not specifically stories you may have heard before, but similar enough to evoke thoughts of bedtime stories you may have heard as a child. This film helps us understand how important myths can be in our lives. They bring fun, adventure, and romance into our lives where it might otherwise not exist, and makes things more memorable and enjoyable. Particularly in the case of Big Fish, it shows us how as we approach the end of our lives, we depend on the legends we leave behind to give those lives meaning. We tell these stories not only to others, but to ourselves. Certainly there is truth in them, but the way our stories are told makes them special.
Burton weaves a very heartfelt story that will likely make us swoon along with the romance, and move us to the edge of our seats as Edward relates one of his stories. Burton likes to tell stories with visual effects, and he uses Edward's bizarre tales as a segue into visually rich flashbacks. They involve a witch whose glass eye reflects the way her visitors will die, and a circus run by a zany ringleader (Danny DeVito), making friends with Karl the Giant (Matthew McGrory), a catfish the size of a shark, and the time he parachutes onto the stage of a Red Army talent show in China where he meets Ping and Jing, a conjoined vocal duo sharing two legs. The visual effects are fantastic to behold, but they don't detract from the sweetness and sentimentality of the story.
Big Fish is a compelling look at father-son relationships, and the child coming to terms with the parent's mortality. As they try to make peace with one another, Edward instills the value of a good story in his son, and Will learns how myth makes life worth living. Edward is the kind of Grandpa you'd want to have tell tall tales to your children. The characters are so believable and even though they are at odds with one another, it is easy to relate to them.
Big Fish concludes with a touching tear-and-a-smile quality. You'll laugh and likely be choked up as the story unfolds. It's romantic, humorous, touching, sad, and happy. It's a new direction from Burton since he relies on powerful familial emotions rather than wacky visual splendor to sell the movie; he treads closer to the real world in Big Fish than he has in any of his other films. I would really like to see Burton do more movies like this one. I really feel that Burton allowed himself to shine with Big Fish since he goes out on a limb to do something he typically doesn't do. As a red flag to parents, there are a few brief scenes of nudity which are used artistically rather than sexually. I don't think it necessarily needs to be kept from younger viewers; especially since the intelligent way it is written wouldn't insult kid or adult audiences. Big Fish is a very good movie, I still get choked up every time I see it. This one is worth owning and seeing again and again.

What's your favorite Tim Burton movie? Why do you like it so much? Comment below and tell me why!

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