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Film Review: Big Fish (2003)

​A modern, adventure-filled, American fairytale, Big Fish is the tale of plucky, small town hero Edward Bloom, portrayed in flashback by Ewan McGregor and in the present-day by Albert Finney. As a young man, Ed travels the world, leaving his hometown in Alabama to encounter the unsettlingly idyllic people of Spectre, work at a travelling circus, win over the love of his life from an old rival, escape from the Korean War, and myriad other fascinating, incredible stories. Although he has lived a long and interesting life, on his deathbed Ed’s pragmatic and nearly estranged son Will (Billy Crudup) must reconcile the man and the larger-than-life myth he listened to while growing up.

Themes of storytelling, fact versus fiction, and father-son relationships are explored both entertainingly and emotionally in Big Fish. The charming McGregor, with his toothy grin and over-the-top, fake Southern accent, winningly carries the series of flashbacks into hyperbole and surrealism as dictated by the multiple narrators of the film. The main narrator is the older Ed Bloom, of course, but his stories have been repeated so many times that his family are able to recite them back to him, thus helping to build, enforce, and embellish his tall tales. The only one not happily participating in these elaborate stories is Will who desires to know the truth of his larger-than-life father as he himself approaches fatherhood.

Noted quirky/creepy director Tim Burton helmed Big Fish, although his usual gothic style is greatly toned down here. The fantastical script was adapted from the 1998 novel of the same name. A huge roster of amazing character actors (many of whom are frequent collaborators with Burton) fills the supporting cast, from Steve Buscemi and Helena Bonham Carter to Missi Pyle and Danny Devito, while Jessica Lange and Marion Cotillard play the loving wives of Ed and Will respectively. Although this is one of Burton’s smaller and less stylish films, it is no less entertaining and memorable than the others.

Rating: 4 out of 5 pairs of shoes dangling on a telephone line

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