"Pee Wee's Big Adventure" is simply one of the best films of all time, and you can quote me on that. That was Burton's breakthrough--then came "Batman," which was very good but slightly lacking in substance, and then came "Edward Scissorhands"--one of my sister's favorite films, a beautiful love story and an eerie fable...but just missing a very small ingredient that kept it from becoming a great movie (perhaps the same with his film "Ed Wood"--a very good film, but not exactly one of my all-time favorites).
I have my doubts as to whether anyone other than Tim Burton could have pulled off "Big Fish." Here's a movie I expected I would dislike and come away feeling a little bit empty--but that's only partially true. The movie doesn't quite exceed on the level it tries to, but as a film, it's one of the best motion pictures of the year.
It stars Albert Finney as Edward Bloom, an old man who loves to exaggerate tales of his past and pass these on to his friends and family. One night his son, William (Billy Crudup), tires of hearing the story about how he caught the town's largest fish in a lake using a gold ring--so he ignores his father for three whole years, until his mother (Jessica Lange) informs Will that his father is dying of cancer, and that he wishes to speak with his son one last time.
Drawn back to his old Alabama hometown with his new wife, Will finally learns the truth about these so-called "exaggerated" stories--and we, as the audience, get to see them in flashback mode. It begins with a young Edward (Ewan McGregor), a "big fish" who was just too small for his own town and had to move away to search for brighter prospects. On his journey he comes across an assortment of odd fellows, including a "Gentle Giant," a failed poet living in a heavenly town named Spectre, and a strange circus ringleader who also happens to be a werewolf.
All of these stories that Edward Senior tells his family relate to their current positions, and to call the film simply beautiful would be what John Candy once said is "the understatement of the year." My particular favorite character was the poet living in Spectre, played by Steve Buscemi (a wonderful supporting actor), who I had no idea played any role in this film prior to viewing the opening credits and seeing "with Steve Buscemi" appear on screen.
Buscemi's poet has been working on a particular poem for twelve years whilst living in Spectre. "Can I see it?" asks Edward. It says, "Roses are red, violets are blue, I love Spectre." "But it's only three lines long!" says Edward. "That's the reason you don't show your work to people," Buscemi says.
Danny DeVito also appears as the circus ringleader, and the most regretful scene in the film is that in which we see him naked from behind. I shudder at the thought. But, for what it's worth, DeVito's second re-teaming with Burton is magnificent--he's a supporting character, but the film certainly benefits from his performance.
Like all of Burton's films, "Big Fish" teeters on the edge of greatness, but it never quite crosses the line. This is a marvelous film, full of warmth, kind-hearted fables and beautiful cinematography, and it's one of the best films of the year. It's certainly a unique film experience unlike any you've ever had before. Unless, of course, you've seen "Edward Scissorhands" or "Ed Wood." Then some of it may look a bit familiar.
Still, I enjoyed it more than "The Lord of the Rings." And I could actually relate to this film.
Trivia note: "Edward Scissorhands" was a Tim Burton film. The main character of this film is named Edward. Sometimes when people pronounce his name with their thick Alabama accents it comes across as "Ed Wood." Mere coincidence or something more? We may never find out.
- John Ulmer