“Big Fish” may be the strangest, most dazzling, whimsical, downright gorgeous film of the year. Director Time Burton (“Batman”) returns to form with a quirky, delightfully impossible fable about Ed Bloom, (Albert Finney, “Erin Brockovich”) a dying old man who spun his whole life into an elaborate tall tale. The film deals with the attempts of Ed’s son Will (Billy Crudup, “Almost Famous”) to reconcile his father’s myths to the man who told them before his father passes away. The film interweaves Ed’s present with his fantastic version of his past, with Ewan McGregor (“Moulin Rouge”) playing his younger self as his son unravels the link between the truth and the stories.
This is Burton’s most careful, artfully shot film since “Edward Scissor Hands,” a feast for the eyes that whirls elegantly between the tales and real world. Both Finney and McGregor give marvelous, charismatic performances, almost perfectly aping each others mannerisms to complete the illusion that they’re a single man separated by the years. Sadly, Crudup is so bland as the son, that when compared to the two versions of his firebrand father, he becomes a heartfelt distraction at best.
The stories, which involve a giant, a witch, a werewolf, the circus, Siamese twin cabaret singers and a strange utopia in the tucked away in a swamp, are just far enough off reality, so that everything has a familiar but bizarre feel to it, a sort of fairytale next door. They’re good stories, filled with enough humor and charm to make you wish that things like this happened to all of us.
If there is anything to dislike here, its that the “real” parts of the movie can never quite live up to the old man’s tales, that almost nothing could. The story gathers all its emotional punch from comparing the real world to the fantasy, but since one of them so over shadows the other, the contrast, while striking, is lost in the rush and thunder of Ed’s personal mythology. In “Big Fish,” the memories may outshine the experiences they come from, but go see it and you’re sure to be delighted with both.