by Susan Starr and Kevin Kocur
“Big Fish” is the story of a guy who tells his son elaborate, boring lies about his life instead of the simple, boring truth. The father is Ed Bloom, played by Albert Finney as a larger than life character who wants life to be more interesting than it is. As a boy, Will (Billy Crudup) enjoyed these stories, but now that he is a man, he is tired of them and wants to know who his father really is.
The movie is mostly ‘flashbacks’ of Ed’s stories. These tell how the young Ed, played by Ewan McGregor, traveled with a giant, joined the circus, met a very improbable set of Siamese twins (they have separate torsos, but one lower body) while on a secret mission in North Korea, had adventures as a motorcycling riding, traveling salesman and wrestled with a giant catfish (the “Big Fish” of the title) to get his wedding ring back. The only flashback that held my interest at all was when young Ed stumbles into the town of Spectre. The place seems to exist outside of time. Everyone is barefoot and happy and more seems to be going on than meets the eye.
One of the stories tells how Ed fell in love at first sight with his wife, Sandra, played as a young woman by Allison Lohman. Both Lohman and McGregor bear an uncanny resemblance to the present day versions of their characters. I can’t decide if they all really look alike or if it was clever makeup. The present day Sandra is played by Jessica Lange with her bones jutting out so much it looks like you would cut your hand if you touched her. Sandra’s only personality trait is that she adores her husband. She spends the whole movie looking fondly at Ed, as if she were in training to be a politician’s wife. Ewan McGregor and Allison Lohman, who play the young adult Ed and Sandra, bear and uncanny resemblance to the present day versions of their characters. I can’t decide if they all really look alike or if it was clever makeup. Will’s French wife Josephine (Marion Cotillard), Ed’s doctor (Robert Guillaume) and everyone else in the movie are thoroughly charmed by Ed and his ‘Big Fish’ stories. Only Will is irritated by them. I have to admit I’m with Will on this one.
Tim Burton directed the movie. The ‘flashbacks’ to Ed’s stories have the typical colorful, eye-catching visuals associated with Burton. The problem is that the stories are not really all that interesting and they go on way too long. I think I was supposed to be charmed by the stories, but instead they had me rolling my eyes. I felt really sorry for Ed’s family. Listening to Ed telling his improbable stories over and over again has got to be worse than listening to Kevin and his riding buddies tell the story about the thing that happened at that rally that one time, over and over again.
“Big Fish” isn’t a bad film, but it could definitely pick up the pace at times. Still, there are some interesting and funny scenes. Some of them are simple, quick little scenes: Ed daydreaming about the girl he just met (Sandra) while shoveling elephant manure at the circus comes to mind. Ed daydreaming about same girl while standing inside a Ball Of Steel with motorcycles riding all around him. Ed daydreaming…. well, you get the idea.
Along his many occupations, Ed is a traveling salesman who is lucky enough to ride a gorgeous, black BMW with a Steib sidecar attached. As this career progresses he moves up to a beautiful red 1960’s Dodge Charger. Personally, I’d have been perfectly happy with the bike. But Ed is always about moving on to bigger and better things. And while the Charger is pure eye candy and a fine ride, this publication isn’t called Minnesota Mopar Monthly. But I digress.
I’ll admit that I like Ewan McGregor. He is an avid motorcyclist and has ridden parts of the world that I can only dream of going to. Like his character in “Big Fish”, he has many adventures throughout his journeys. Only in this case, I prefer the non-fictional ones to the fictional ones.
Trivia time: In one scene, young Ed walks past a barefoot man playing a banjo. The man is played by Billy Redden who also played the banjo-playing boy in Deliverance.
The scene with the elephant defecating while young Ed daydreams wasn’t planned. The elephant was doing it’s thing while the camera’s were rolling, the crew thought is was funny so they left it in.
When Young Ed first visits the town of Spectre, we see shoes hanging from a wire above the city. On the left-hand side hangs a pair of ruby slippers—an obvious reference to The Wizard of Oz.