directed by: Tim Burton
Well, a big brief departure from the usual fare. Recently, I was asked by a friend why I enjoyed this movie, even to this day. This interlogue (not a real word) went something like: “Can I say something to you Frank?” “Ty,… Frank” “You’ve been acting psychotic lately. What the hell? Why?” “Well I’ve been a little under strain, I’ve got to play Smails in the tournament….” Oh wait, that’s from Caddyshack. Anyway, it’s not a particularly acclaimed film, and judging by the section partitioned for this film during the recent Tim Burton Exhibit at LACMA, not particularly well liked among Burton’s work.
But I disagree. At the point of my life when I first saw this film in the theaters, I was… 17. Maybe a fresh 18. And that December – January 2003 – 2004 was a very tumultuous time in my life. Sometime late in January would be my first kiss. Embarrassingly enough. I was graduating high school in 5 months. Anyways, setting up the stage.
Okay, so let’s start with the basics. Elfman score. Burton directorial work. Elfman was nominated for an Oscar for this score, and considering Elfman has done the score for every single Burton movie minus Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd (which already had one) and this is the ONLY nomination Elfman has working on a Burton film. Add to that the fact that 2003 was also the year Return of the King ran rampant through the Oscars, kind of like those green ghost dudes in … the Return of the King. But far more importantly, I believe this to be Elfman’s finest work and often underlooked and underappreciated. Kind of like Sabrina for John Williams (though he was nominated for this). Or Legends of the Fall for Horner (though he did win the Golden Globe for it). Anyways, it’s a damn good score. And has that Burton-y devilishly good color palette and cinematography.
Moving on…. Ewan McGregor. Now up until this film, I had probably seen Ewan in two movies (like most people), namely (in a Star Wars nerd voice) The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Okay okay okay, he was in Black Hawk Down, but for like 5 minutes. And everyone looked and acted the same in that movie. Sorry, hipster doofuses, it would probably be another year or two before I caught Trainspotting. I was a kid in the suburbs. I didn’t need dead babies and heroin thrown in my face. (Not even going to mention the atrocity that was Moulin Rouge…My sister would not shut up about watching that movie/soundtrack over and over and over and over) So anyways, this was like the first time where you got to see Ewan’s acting chops. The direct antithesis of Obi Wan. He was just a carefree honest likable nice guy. And I definitely wanted to and did relate to him. So there.
Let’s get a couple ancillary sweet cameo, bit roles out of the way. Steve Buscemi. Danny DeVito. Robert Guillaume (of Sports Night and Half-Life 2) (Thank God that man is still alive). Roy from the Office. and Miley Friggin Cyrus (Miley Cyrus is in this? I’ve got to watch it again to make sure….)
Okay, so nuts and bolts. Now Big Fish plays out like a father-son bonding movie, but also like a old man’s take a look at his life story. So already, there’s this threaded weaving going on with the son in present day, the father present day, and the father in the past (Ewan). And it’s all, albeit tenuously, held together by this big ol’ catfish. Now, Ewan’s story starts out like he’s a big fish (see what I did there) in a small pond. So he wants to move off to the city because he’s outgrown his small town blues. But rather than him ever making it to a big city, the movie instead decides that would be super lame if it’s just him in a big city working for the weekend or whatever, and instead journeys out into the fantastical. Both as the impetus to get him out of his small town and along his way. And this where the tall tales really take force. There were a few here and there in his childhood, but now it’s apparent that in the back of your mind while you’re watching it, you’re in the son’s shoes. Unbelieving. Skeptical. But as the movie goes on, you almost forget about the whimsical circumstances Ed Bloom is getting himself into, and start to identify and care about the man. Feel for him, fight for him, but at the same time knowing what we know from the start. He marries the girl. They have their son. It’s going to work out. This, pretty brilliantly, is echoed by Bloom throughout the film by his interaction with the witch and knowing how he’s going to die. Because that’s one of the main points and the ultimate conclusion/nexus of the movie. We all must live our lives assuming that we aren’t going to die the next day/hour/minute. We have to, otherwise we would go nuts looking over our shoulder, tying up loose ends, or waiting for the end. And it’s only when Ed Bloom is an old man and sick, that he comes to terms with his own mortality, having overlooked it his entire life.
Now for the yucky love parts. Okay, so I just want to say, everything from the circus scene up to and including the daffodils was pure cinematic gold. So Ewan has just brought the Giant dude, (whose thematic element I’m not even going to touch in this review), to the circus to make his claim and he happens upon a young blonde Alison Lohman type. Time stops. Literally. In a Burton-esque elegance of course. He then has to spend day and night , month after month, toiling away working for DeVito at the circus to just learn snippets about her. DeVito: “Her favorite flower is daffodils” Bloom: “…Daffodils” (smiles) & DeVito: “She likes music” Bloom: “Music. She likes music” (smiles) So DeVito eventually tells him where to find her, after capstoning his 3 year (3 YEARS for a girl) experience at the circus by battling DeVito, who turns out to be a werewolf. For some reason. So at first he just flat out tells her he loves her, something appealing to me at 18, and reminiscent of earlier Hollywood movie romance. Turns out she’s engaged to Roy from the Office, though. All the good ones are taken, though you can’t give up without a fight. Or something. Then the man does something probably highly illegal, highly improbable, highly expensive, and highly time-consuming. He plants an entire field of bloomin’ daffodils outside her sorority house. Genius move. This of course gets him beat up by Roy from the Office, but gets him the girl. BUT THEN HE GETS SHIPPED OFF TO KOREA. Great twist and great reunion scene when he gets back while she’s doing the laundry.
Okay heading home now, the movie finishes up by the son tying up loose ends in his father’s story, only to realize that his father was a great man, that he overanalyzed his relationship with him, and it turns out having the Ed Bloom twist on life and stories about your life can really lead you down a pretty awesome path. It comes full circle, wraps up the intertwined storylines nicely, and leaves with the son passing on his father’s stories to his son. It mixed the fantastical and reality better than say, The Princess Bride, which was more of a fantasy which happened to have been read during a movie, and also Forrest Gump, which was more focused on the socio-political landscape and reality more than fantasy. And usually in the case of movies like Big Fish, fantasy isn’t used as a mere escape or flashy visuals, like the aforementioned Star Wars or LOTR but rather to augment the internal and external personal conflicts within the characters. And to provide a damn good moviewatching experience.
So … yeah. I like Big Fish.