BY PATRICIA DRAZNIN
Young Ed Bloom (Ewan McGregor) visits the lost town of Spectre in Tim Burton’s Big Fish. © 2003 Columbia Pictures.
ED BLOOM NEVER MET A fact he couldn’t embellish. A self-described big fish in a small Alabama town, Bloom (Albert Finney) is the quintessential storyteller who would never belittle the facts by telling a mundane truth. Bloom’s wife (Jessica Lange) adores her husband and his wildly romantic imagination. But Ed’s grown son Will (Billy Crudup) has been frustrated all his life to never know his real dad, the man behind the tall tales. And now that Ed is old and ill, Will begs his father to share something real—good, bad, or indifferent, just something true.
A delightful dose of fantasy makes this movie refreshing and unpredictable. The account of Ed Bloom’s life, according to the big fish himself, is played by Ewan McGregor. The flashback via storybookland includes a host of memorable characters such as a circus ringmaster (Danny DeVito), a witch (Helena Bonham Carter), and a seven-foot giant. Director Tim Burton was born for this assignment. Renowned for his fertile domain of unusual people such as Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, and Batman, Burton launches this imaginative tale out of the Daniel Wallace novel and onto the big screen.
Big Fish takes us on an uncharted odyssey down forbidden roads—into a strange and magical town of barefoot inhabitants, into the peculiar world of the circus, and to the meeting of Bloom and his future wife. A repeating theme is the reference to a large fish that only Bloom has encountered, a story that ultimately threads the film together in a brilliant and satisfying way.
Big Fish is an original story that consistently delivers the unexpected, including one of cinema’s most poignantly human moments. Kudos to Daniel Wallace’s simple and entertaining creation that chases an unconventional trajectory to a zinger of an ending. And bravo to Tim Burton for bringing this insightful and magical tale to life.
But in all fairness, let’s say there are no guarantees here; this movie either speaks to you or it doesn’t. But if it does, you will find yourself laughing and crying and gaining some fresh insight into human nature. And you might very well leave the theater believing in big fish.