Big Fish

A curious thing about Big Fish: during its first three weeks of release, when it was playing in a small number of theatres, it was actually making more money per screen than Return of the King. Even twice as much! That's no mean feat, given the massive popularity of King, as well as other critics' underwhelming reviews for Burton's so-called first "grown-up" film.

As visually impressive as Burton's films are, they're not usually known for their good scripts. So if Big Fish were really the dud that critics claim it is, word of mouth would not be strong enough to keep those theatres packed, especially up against the Lord of the Rings juggernaut. But I admit that I can be more swayed by a lukewarm review than by a scathing one, since so many movies that aspire to greatness wind up being merely mediocre, and so I saw Big Fish with a little skepticism.

This is one of those instances where audiences are right and critics are wrong. Big Fish is a lovely film, sweet and inventive. Falling somewhere between Forrest Gump and Terry Gilliam's Baron Munchausen, it is the story of Ed Bloom (played as a young man by Ewan McGregor and in old age by a splendid Albert Finney), a spinner of tall tales who, on his death bed, is confronted by his bitter son (Billy Crudup), who is sickened by a lifetime of never knowing the truth behind his father's wild stories.

Most of the film, then, is an anecdotal account of Ed's life as he tells it, involving witches, giants, Siamese twins, and other oddities. It builds to a conclusion that reconciles fantasy with reality beautifully. Big Fish is sentimental, and for that reason there will be some who will hate it. I'll warrant that if I see it again in a less generous mood a few years down the road, it may not hold up. But it's far more honest and far less pushy than the bloated Forrest Gump, and the performances delicately balance out the visuals, which are fantastical but never garish. Big Fish is a pleasant surprise.