Fillet of Fish
Tim Burton, USA, 2003
Posted: January 16,
As a pure visual stylist, Tim Burton operates in a class by himself.
What he lacks in depth, he more than compensates for with an appealingly
fanciful brand of eye-candy. In films like Sleepy Hollow, The Nightmare
Before Christmas and Edward Scissorhands, Burton stamps the proceedings
with a distinct cinematic fingerprint that reflects the director's
adoration of nightshade color schemes and playfully morbid thematic
underpinnings. Adapting Daniel Wallace's popular novel Big Fish: A
Novel of Mythic Proportions, then, would seem right up Burton's alley.
Big Fish, after all, is all about telling an entertaining story full
of larger-than-life characters and fantastical adventures. And, true to
form, Big Fish forsakes character development in favor of the engaging
Albert Finney plays the dying Edward Bloom, an Alabama-born teller of
tall tales, who has spent his entire life embellishing encounters and
situations to the point that what actually happened has lost all meaning.
Spending time with Edward during his final days are devoted wife Sandra
(Jessica Lange), his estranged journalist son William (Billy Crudup), and
William's pregnant, Parisian bride, Josephine (Marion Cotillard). Edward,
naturally, takes advantage of all the deathbed attention to once again
relate the story of his wildly exaggerated life. Through flashbacks, we
follow Ewan McGregor as young Edward, traipsing about Alabama and far
beyond, encountering gentle giants, lycanthropy-afflicted circus barkers,
and Siamese-twin showgirls.
Cinematographer Philippe Rousselot, who filmed Burton's Planet of
the Apes and won an Oscar for A River Runs Through It, certainly
imagines a vibrant, appropriately fabulistic world for Edward's inflated
adventures. Unlike in most Burton movies, green is the primary color here,
as opposed to the usual blue (or black-and-white). As a result, Big
Fish bursts with life and a genuine sense of wonder. It proves without
question the most life-affirming, feel-good work in Burton's gloomy
oeuvre. And thanks to John August's cleverly structured screenplay,
there's even an honestly earned tearjerker moment near the end as Edward
meets his maker.
What we don't get with Big Fish, however, is a sense of closure between
father and son. Poor William, on the verge of becoming a father himself,
desperately attempts to connect with the dad who, thanks to service in the
war and work as a traveling salesman, was hardly around while his son was
growing up. Scenes that might have been mined for real emotional impact,
such as having Edward attempt to justify or explain why he sought
fulfillment outside his family, are instead used to let the man launch
into yet another tall tale. A lame stab at revealing infidelity at the
root of the Edward's wildly fanciful tales backfires as well, showing him
instead as a dedicated husband and thus offering little insight into what
actually makes him tick.
Big Fish does play, albeit peripherally, with the obvious but
perfectly acceptable notion of a small town Southern boy yearning to be a
Big Fish in the world, more than a jocular hick from the sticks. But with
Burton, there's little time to delve into a character's psyche when the
image of a car in a tree or a beautiful mermaid can be conjured instead.
As a visual feast, Big Fish is a full and satisfying meal. As a
study of fathers and sons, husbands and wives, and the difficulty of
communication therein, it's barely an appetizer.
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