Big Fish (2003)

(In theaters, January 2004) Tim Burton is known for the exuberant quality of his visual imagination, and if Big Fish is more sedate than usual in terms of eye-candy, it’s still certainly not a run-of-the-mill film. Alternating between realistic segments in which a young man faces his dying father and more lurid moments in which fantasies are presented on-screen, Big Fish inevitably comes to fuse both threads together in a moving finale. It’s the complete movie experience: You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll want to throw up (but only if you already have a splitting headache coming into the film). Albert Finney is effective as the narrator of his own life and Ewan MacGregor is a renewed delight as the hero of the tall tales being told. (And yet Helena Bonham Carter steals the show as a reclusive woman who may or may not be a witch) It’s not Burton’s best film: Often plodding along, sometimes not visually effective enough, it can disappoint as much as it pleases. But by being a celebration of the necessity of fantastic stories, Big Fish ends up forming a central part of Burton’s cinematic oeuvre. It will certainly play better to older and less jaded audiences, but it’s certainly hard to dismiss casually. Bits and pieces of it are likely to resonate a long time in viewers’ heads, much like for Burton’s other films.

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