Every other year you get a movie that oozes magic and charm. Think "Chocolat". Think "Amelie". Think "What dreams may come". Perhaps even, "Being John Malkovich". And this year, it's time to think big... "Big Fish", to be precise. All four of these movies have some things in common. Merely describing the premise is not nearly enough to do justice to the mood of the film. And the mood, the emotional reaction of the audience, is in many ways much more important than the actual content. Still, there's no way around it in a proper review: We meet a disillusioned young man and his father, a charming old guy who knows exactly how to tell stories to fascinate first-time listeners and children. Unfortunately, there's barely any of those left, as he retold his magical stories once too often. When his health and life are beginning to fade away, his son wants to finally learn the truth about his father. Meanwhile, we hear his life story, as he tells it... Tim Burton is probably best-known for visual eye candy movies. Few directors can compete with the imagination he's shown in movies like Batman, Nightmare before Christmas and Sleepy Hollow. Outside the realm of darker, more gothic visuals, Tim Burton has so far been somewhat less prolific. Planet of the Apes was an expensive embarrassment, and Ed Wood is a decidedly acquired taste. Big Fish, then, is a new direction for him. Yes, it is eye candy, or perhaps even eye H"agen Dazs. But this time, the movie has much more of a soul than his monkeyplanet. This soul is achieved by two means: a great story (or collection of stories) and great acting. If you don't believe that the story is great, watch the audience. At key moments, everyone was chuckling or laughing, at others, I heard dozens of sniffs and tissues being unpacked around me. Yes, this is heartwarming stuff that a colder, more cynical soul would call cheese. Finally, Burton has found a story worthy of his talents again. And, better yet, he did not forget to encourage his cast to act. For a case study of such failure, see Christina Ricci's completely flat performance in Sleepy Hollow. In Big Fish, the cast is so carefully selected that failure is simply not an option. Ewan McGregor (playing the father in his youth) may not have much more to do than smile, be charming and sustain a Southern US accent, but he does it brilliantly. Much more important are the performances of Albert Finney and Jessica Lange, playing the aged father and mother, respectively. And they both deliver character performances worthy of prizes.
After cheerleading so enthusiastically for this movie, perhaps it is time to take a step back and look at it from a more critical perspective. Yes, it managed to enchant the audience, but it did so the Hollywood way. Special effects and big budget feature heavily. This is in stark contrast to the seemingly much less organized and much more intuitional charm of Amelie. This movie is also much more comfy about its pace - it takes its time just like a good storyteller would, but perhaps leaving behind the five-second-attention-span MTV generation kids in the process. On the other hand, I am tempted to say that its biggest vice is that there just isn't enough of it. Given the episodal structure of this movie, I can almost imagine what it would have felt like as TV series, or multi-part TV movie. I am not sure whether to wish for this to happen or shudder at the thought of "Big Fish: The Animated Series" or some such atrocity. Every story told in this movie is perfect, and a series of such perfect stories would be wonderful. Yet can perfection be sustained for a large number of stories? Either way, I wonder what is going to become of Big Fish - a franchise or a single movie. It definitely is more deserving of praise, awards and viewers than any other movie released during the past six months, including LOTR-RotK.
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