Big Fish review by The Grim Ringler

As a child, when Santa Claus died to you so died a bit of the universe. It got smaller and you got bigger and suddenly every magical thing in the world was dead to you. As hard as you tried you could never believe in anything magical again and all that was left for you was to find the little magic there was in the real world. This is a movie about that feeling. I have read that this is director Tim Burton’s best film. That it’s his Oscar movie. I dunno. It isn’t my favorite film from him, I can tell you that. And I dunno that it’s his best (I think he will never top the heart and strange beauty of Edward Scissorhands), but this is definitely his most thoughtful and ‘adult’ film. And it’s a hell of a tale.

This story is about a man who has spent his entire life living beneath the shadow of his father’s tall tales. Tales of giants, of big fish, of circuses, of strange, perfect towns, of jumping spiders and True Love. All his life this man has seen his father only as a storyteller and never as a father. Never as a dad. And now, as he himself is on the verge of having his own child and his father is on the verge of death, this man wants nothing more than to truly learn about who his father was and what the truth behind the stories is. What he finds is that his father was a man that was loved by many not because he told the stories, but because he WAS the stories and in telling them that person also was the story and would become part of a new tale. Tall or not, his father only knew how to love and to teach through his stories, and his son, a realist and journalist together, cannot see how you can live a life wrapped in the webbing of tall tales. Cannot see it that is until he is given a glimpse of the reality behind the tales themselves.

This really is a beautiful film and even me, the old cynic, was a bit choked up at the end. More than a simple story about a son trying to learn whom his father was, it’s more about the power of stories and the wonder they still hold. We forget how powerful a good story can be until we step into a theater, or read a good book, or see a fine play. We forget what it felt like when Santa was alive. In this film we get to see both the real and the fantastic and find that the truth is somewhere in the middle. That reality is a bit too boring sometimes or a bit too dramatic for the telling.

I was put off by the film initially because the entire thing is telegraphed to you from the outset – here’s a guy that doesn’t ‘know’ his father and wants to. Le sight. But as the story progresses you see the story within the story and see that the father is not lying to make himself out better, but is trying to tell the truth more beautifully. He is trying to make the ordinary magical in a world that refuses to accept magic is real. He is trying to become immortal to his son and his son’s son and to a million others and in so doing to give new tales to the world that will keep the magic alive. And as the film progressed I fell for it, head over heels. Burton, heck, composer Elfman as well, keeps the real and the fantastic well defined. The ‘real’ is shot very matter of fact, with nothing fanciful or technical. Whereas the fantastic is shot with cranes, and each scene is filled to the top with color and chaos so that you feel as if you are part of that world. As if it is hyper-real. The magic of the film comes from the son, who is as much of a stick in the mud as you can get, who slowly sees what a wonderful man his father was and eventually comes to understand why it was he loves these stories so much.

The film is very disjointed though and it takes a really long time to like the character of the son, who is played by Billy Crudup, and I think it’s his take on the character that is so off-putting. It isn’t that he is bad, or that he makes the son a jerk, but that you can’t understand how he can be so hard on his father. It’s hard to believe that this guy would be so hard on a father that loves him so much and has these great stories to tell. But in its way the movie is a tall tale. The film also put me off in that it is so unlike anything Burton has done (even Ed Wood doesn’t compare to this) that it feels, well, it feels off. It doesn’t feel like his movie. Moments of it do, sure, but not the whole thing. Which is both good and bad. Good in that you are focused on the film and story and not the weird kitsch of it. But it is also bad because you don’t feel the simple joy you feel so many times in watching the wonderful weirdness of Burton, who is our filmic Seuss.

All told though, this is a really good film. The end is very well done and though the beginning is a bit heavy handed, I didn’t feel that way about the ending. It’s a very sweet and well told tale and is an awfully good film. Greatness? No. But Big Fish tells a hell of a tale.


8 out of 10 Jackasses
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