Film, TV and the Arts

Film, TV and the Arts

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Juror's Film Festival: Big Fish (Tim Burton, 2003)

Tim Burton often thrives on blurring the lines between fairy tale and reality, but whereas with Edward Scissorhands the fairy tale bursts into a world of Americana as an alien force, here the two sit side-by-side, almost undifferentiated.

The story is of Edward Bloom (Albert Finney/Ewan McGregor), a teller of tall tales who is coming to the end of his time. His son, however, has tired of the blatant exaggerations and falsehoods that his father still tells. Over the course of Edward’s last days, the story of his life is recounted, strange and fantastical in its nature, but as his son, Will (Billy Crudup), investigates his father’s life, he discovers that there may be more truth in his father’s stories than he suspected.

Those stories contain a brief high-school sports montage, a trans-continental pursuit of love and a Korean war sequence. In short, it’s hard to watch it and not think of many parts of Forrest Gump, and in the hands of another person, this could have been the most horrific sub-Zemeckis fare – a glorious celebration of ‘Merica through the eyes of a good man – without any of the invention or wit of the 1994 classic, and just settling for the crass sentimentality.

Fortunately, this is directed by Tim Burton, and so what we get is a visual treat, full of bizarre pieces of humour and real charm. The opening is hypnotic, a beautiful sequence of a story being told across the ages, which beautifully demonstrates the relationship between father and son, before we begin the story of Edward’s life.

Along the way, there are many great little touches. There is the terrifyingly sterile town of Spectre, the perfect rural Southern town, so dully nice that the great poet, Norther Winslow (Steve Buscemi as great as ever), is reduced to writing three line ditties like “Roses are red, violets are blue. I love Spectre.” There is a delightful circus sequence, featuring a brilliant turn from Danny DeVito and a lovely moment when time stops which is spine-tingling. There are also great performances from Helena Bonham Carter as Jenny, and even a brief glimpse of a younger Marion Cotillard showing, even in a small role, why she is one of the best actresses in the world at the moment.

Two hours flit by in this very good company, producing a film which is made with invention, style and charm. There isn’t a single misstep, but at the end, for all its magic, it seems to be lacking something. Ultimately, the truth is that Burton’s creative energy has dragged this film from being a knock-off of Gump, but there is only so much it can do. When it boils down to it, this is little more than a weightless, enjoyable County Fair, but it has been turned into a grand carnival by a great director.

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