Monday Jan. 12, 2004
Weekend Box Office Results
Big Fish a definite Oscar pick
Matt on Movies
By Matt Scalici
January 12, 2004
Rating: * * * * (out of four)
There's nothing I love more than seeing great talent finally find its place. After a very promising early career with imaginative and clever films like Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands and the marvelous Ed Wood, Tim Burton took a sudden downturn in the quality of his work. His films became a little darker, more cynical and less fun. Who wants to watch every single character in a movie die in a disgusting way, like in Mars Attacks, or a big-budget remake of a film that is only a classic because it has almost no budget (Planet of the Apes)?
Finally, though, Burton's twisted imagination has found the perfect partner for making a movie, Alabama native Daniel Wallace. Wallace has since become a bit of a hero for Alabama film lovers after helping convince the studio to film the movie in Alabama, and at last year's Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham he talked of making Alabama the nation's second Hollywood. All that is yet to be seen, but Wallace has at least put us on the Hollywood map with this extraordinary film.
The film stars Albert Finney and Ewan McGregor as the older and younger versions, respectively, of Edward Bloom, a small town hero with a lifetime full of colorful characters and stories, even if most of them are made up.
When Ed discovers that he is dying, his estranged son (Billy Crudup) comes to see him to try to sort through the myth and find out the truth of his father's life.
The best scenes of the film are those that are illustrating the clearly exaggerated stories of Ed Bloom's life. They are filled with fantastic images and special effects, all of which are grossly underplayed, sort of like The Wizard of Oz. Rather than cueing up dramatic music every time we see something fantastic, Burton plays it like it's all totally believable.
Crudup resents his father for lying to him all these years and never telling him the full truth, but as the stories go on and his father's condition gets worse, he begins to learn that mythology may be more important than reality sometimes. This theme is shown especially well in the love story between Ed and his future wife Sandra played in the present by Jessica Lange and in the past by Alison Lohman. The two actresses look remarkably alike and both are absolutely wonderful in their roles here. The story of Ed and Sandra is the kind of story anyone would dream of living but it's clear that the two probably just met in college. What's important, we discover, is not whether or not any of it really happened but whether or not it helps us understand just how much these two people love each other.
In the end, Ed says, the stories of our lives are what define us. When we're dead and gone, our stories will be the only part of us that survives, so shouldn't they be great stories? Big Fish is perhaps the only legitimate Oscar contender to have such a clear-cut message, and it's certainly an unusually uplifting one considering that Burton was behind the camera for the whole thing.
If there are any faults with the film, it's that it might spend a little too much time in the story sequences, where special effects and flashy visuals take center stage, rather than in the real world where the true heart of the film lies.
Ultimately, though, this fault is redeemed in the amazing final scene of the film, which I will of course not talk about here. Suffice it to say that it wraps the film up ever so appropriately and puts the perfect cap on a wonderful, classic American film.
Big Fish is without a doubt one of the year's best films, and I can't imagine it will walk away empty-handed come Oscar night. Seeing as how it's probably the biggest film ever to be born and bred in Alabama, you can bet I'll be pulling for it.