Friday, January 02, 2004

REVIEW: Big Fish

* * * (out of four)
Seen 31 December 2003 at Loews Harvard Square #2 (first-run)

Big Fish is beautiful, no question about it. As with most Tim Burton movies, the production design is meticulous, with every square inch of the screen part of a beautiful image. The question becomes whether that beauty is enough, or whether or not the film delivers (and needs) more.

I say that the beauty is enough. Big Fish is able to justify its existence by looking good, and occasionally displaying a clever bit of wit. Its appeals to sentimentality are more problematic. It starts with Will Bloom upset over his father (Albert Finney) being unable to keep from hogging the spotlight at Will's own wedding, but never shows the elder Bloom growing, or becoming able to respect his son. Indeed, the father, Ed Bloom (played by Ewan McGregor as a younger man) never seems to learn anything or grow in any way; he starts out fearless and larger-than-life and stays that way.

It's most frustrating when dealing with the women in his life. He falls in love with Sandra (Alison Lohman in the past, Jessica Lange in the present) at first sight, but she's a blank. We're never given any reason why she's so appealing, other than her beauty; we never know what she saw in the man she was engaged in at the time (and, on the other hand, we never see why he's so bad for her until after the dust settles). Meanwhile, the girl he meets in an enchanted town, Jenny (Hailey Ann Nelson and Helena Bonham Carter) does seem to be more than pretty, but is casually tossed aside.

But the movie is beautiful and that in many ways is enough. When it is simply telling its tall tales and not trying to deal with real life, or teach anything, it enters a realm of pure fantasy where Burton excels. So, ultimately, this is one of those movies where visuals must be allowed to trump characterization. If you let that happen, you'll find a fairly entertaining film.

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