If all goes well I should be seeing Burton’s Alice in Wonderland next week. I don’t expect the film to be perfect, and I won’t be angry if I don’t love it as much as I wanted to. It seems that so many hate Burton now and with the announcement of his imminent reimagining of The Addams’ Family (which I think could be excellent) the trolls have emerged; but I digress. Whenever I hear the claims of Burton’s lack of restraint I always feel the urge to slag someone off by citing my favourite live action Burton film – an imperfect masterpiece that thrills me as much as it moves me, 2003’s forgotten Big Fish.
Big Fish is a drama, a fantasy, a comedy, a romance and a mystery all rolled into one atypical bundle from Burton. It is the story of Ed Bloom a dying man forever at odds with his son. On his deathbed he tries to explain himself to his son. In this way Big Fish is two stories in one. On the most obvious of levels it’s difficult to believe that Ewan McGregor grew up to become Albert Finney, not because Albert Finney isn’t charming. To be fair Finney’s early work in Tom Jones is not that different from the young Ewan in the film. Finney just gives the feeling of a man whose light has been snuffed out for whatever reasons, even though he’s not unhappy. Jessica Lange plays brilliantly in the small role of Finney’s wife. I’ve always been a fan of Lange and her manner of imbuing so much emotion to a nondescript role is effective. As earnest and delicate as the times in the present are, it’s difficult to deny the sheer (aesthetic) brilliance of Big Fish when it retracts to the past. It’s a fanciful tale, but that’s precisely the point which is why Burton is so effective, but the present moments in their sombreness is done excellently. The visuals are an important of the film, but it’s the not the defining entity. That would be the acting.
Helena Bonham Carter made my top 5 of 2003 for her brilliant performance in a dual role. It’s the most sensitive role Burton has given her and she handles it perfectly. It’s difficult to balance her charm against the beauty and stability of Lohman/Lange and Carter never turns it into a cliché. Ewan McGregor gives his best performance as Ed. It’s that fanciful innocence that suits him, and even the accent tends to get obtrusive in some moments it’s still an absolutely brilliant incarnation and Albert Finney does so much emoting with so little time (this man continues to be excellent even in his old age). Big Fish also features Marion Cotillard in a small role as Billy Crudup’s wife.
I am a fan of Burton so I really can’t say whether or not I’m the most infallible critic, but then who is? Big Fish delights me and it stirs me. It’s an excellent creation and a treasure of the last decade as far as I’m concerned.