Big Fish (2003)

Rating: B-

Dir: Tim Burton
Star: Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Ewan McGregor, Jessica Lange

After Apes, it’s nice to see Burton returning to the smaller, more personal films with which he made his mark. The result is a lot more engaging, yet there’s something which prevents it from being fully satisfying. The set-up is intriguing: Will (Crudup) is estranged from his father Edward (Finney) by the latter’s tall tales, but they are re-united by imminent death, and the son’s desire to see who his dad truly was. There’s an element of stunt casting, with a supporting roster of cameos – Steve Buscemi, Helena Bonham-Carter, Danny DeVito (plus supposedly Faye Dunaway and Julianne Moore, though I missed them!) – which distract more than enhance. Speaking of distractions, did wonder about Finney and McGregor, from Manchester and Perthshire respectively, playing an Alabaman; ditto Bonham-Carter, born in Golders Green.

Fortunately, the central love story is simply beautiful: perhaps the problem is that Burton didn’t realise what a gem he had. Hence, young Edward (McGregor) also works in a circus, befriends a giant, discovers a spooky town, is a war-hero, a sports-hero, etc. While impeccably told, they go well past what’s necessary and together, regardless of whether or not they are “true”, there’s a certain point beyond which the net effect is a loss of credibility. If Burton had reined in his imagination and stuck to the core romance, the end result could have been wonderful, rather than merely pretty good.