Based on a short novel (which I have read), the story of “Big Fish” is very simple. Edward Bloom, played in the present day by Albert Finney and in his youth by Ewan McGregor, is dying. His son, William, played by Billy Crudup, comes home with his expectant wife, to visit his father before he dies. Throughout William’s life, his father has been an enigma. Although he has heard Edward’s stories a million times, many of them were too fantastic to believe. William’s wish before his father dies it to understand the real Edward Bloom.
That’s the basic plot. The story jumps from present day events to flashbacks. Edward Bloom’s amazing life is played out on the screen in a way that should put a smile on anyone’s face; the stories are fantastic, but you can easily imagine a father telling his little boy the same thing. As the story progresses, we see Edward’s life from the time of his birth, through his pursuit of his wife to be, played by Alison Lohman (and Jessica Lange in the present day scenes), through the later stages of his career and life.
To know much more about the plot would not necessarily ruin the movie. But at the same time, I don’t think it’s worth knowing much more. I read the book several months ago, and although it did not ruin my experience in the least bit, each little anecdote would probably be a bit better with no prior knowledge. Overall, we get to see stories about the carnival, 15-foot giants, conjoined twins during WWII and everything in between. Some of this might sound a bit cartoonish, but it’s not.
The performances are stellar all around. Albert Finney does an incredible job at portraying the old Edward Bloom. Nearly all of his scenes are in bed, but he still seems bigger than life; if he does not get an Oscar nomination, something is very wrong with the academy. McGregor, Lange, Crudup and Lohman all nail their roles as well. The rest of the supporting cast includes Danny Devito, Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Buscemi and Robert Guillaume. Each actor brings the perfect mix of humor and emotion to their part.
Overshadowing the acting, Tim Burton’s direction is masterful. At once recognizable and original, we get flashes of the old Tim Burton – a la “Sleepy Hollow” and “Edward Scissorhands” — but we also see a new emotional maturity that has never been seen in his previous work. In a lesser director’s hands, “Big Fish” could have played as a cross between an after school special and a made-for-TV movie. Instead, we get Oscar-worthy material that should resonate in viewer’s minds for a long time to come.Rating: A