Why?: I actually saw and liked this movie and decided to purchase it.
Non-Buyer’s Response: Going in, I have no strong feelings about this one.
I was 15 when I bought Big Fish. Having seen it now, 12 years later, I realize I did not actually understand the movie. I just thought Ewan McGregor was cute and Tim Burton is one of my favourite directors and it was quirky and beautiful. I think I was entertained by the film but looking at it now I can see there’s no way I comprehended how much it speaks about life and legacy.
Big Fish (based on the novel of the same name by Daniel Wallace) is about Will Bloom (Billy Crudup), a writer who, as his father Ed’s (Albert Finney) health disintegrates, tries to uncover more about him from the stories and myths he was told as a boy. Stories that Will believes to be made up fairytales but that Ed firmly stands by. There are giants and jumping spiders and a traveling circus. There are legendary-sized fish and Siamese Twins and picture-perfect towns where no one wears shoes and even the water is sweet. Ed lives in a romantic world while Will lives in a pragmatic one.
The flow of story, the humour and the adventure to Big Fish all weave together and make for a thought-provoking film that had me reflecting on my own history afterward. What are the stories I will pass on? What stories of my parents will I tell my children? Would I want to know how I die, if I could?
The cast of Big Fish is just as impressive as the seemingly tall tales of Ed Bloom. Danny Devito as the circus ringmaster Amos. Jessica Lange as Mrs. Sandra Bloom. Steve Buscemi as the poet Norther Winslow. And…wait is that…Miley Cyrus as the little girl that says “Edward, DON’T” as a young Ed Bloom approaches the witch’s house? Yes it is. And she was credited as “Destiny Cyrus.” Thanks for filling me in on that tidbit, internet!
As much as I enjoyed Big Fish there were a few parts of it that made me shake my head. Mostly, Ed’s wife Sandra, and how we never hear from her on the topic of his tales. Instead, she seems to drift in and out of rooms with a vacant smile on her face. I understand this particular story was to be told between Will and Ed, but having Sandra around just made her seem useless and ignorant. Will often mentions how he and his mother were on great terms so a large, nagging part of my brain said: “Then why don’t you just ask your mom to verify these stories if you’re so curious? Shouldn’t she know?” Or if not, should she take some time to sit Will down and be like “Look dude, is it really hurting anyone if these stories are a little embellished? Stop being so pessimistic.”
Also made me shake my head: a 32-year-old Ewan McGregor playing an 18-year-old for a good portion of the movie. I can suspend a lot of disbelief, but that seemed a bit much. However he also had to play a 40-year-old at other points, depending on the flashback. I guess I never would have been happy so fine.
But I take the side of Ed Bloom any day. I am the dreamer, the storyteller, the entertainer. I come from storytellers in the family and the belief that a good story can be better than a good meal. And I’d watch Ed Bloom’s stories come to life again, and I’d like to see what this movie means to me as I get older and reflect on my own legacy. You win this time, ageless Ewan McGregor. I’d like to KEEP IT.
At one point in Big Fish, Ed Bloom tells his son “We’re storytellers, both of us. I speak mine out, you write yours down. Same thing.” It’s moments like these that provide the heart of the movie and moments like this that I was too young to appreciate when I first saw it, just like Megan. Both of us come from families of oral storytellers, and both of us have chosen to write ours down. (I’ll come back to this). It’s a shame Billy Crudup’s Will is a distant, emotionless and unknowable character, both of us were just dying to love him.
We didn’t. But the two Ed Bloom’s (McGregor and Finney) absolutely put this movie on their collective back. Perhaps it’s because he’s stopped getting the big name, above-the-title roles that he used to, maybe its because its been a while since I’ve watched him in his prime, but I had completely forgotten how charismatic Ewan McGregor can be.
And Albert Finney… he’s the kind of actor that leaves me at a loss for words. I’ve never seen him be anything other than impeccable and complex. When he plays a mob boss in Miller’s Crossing, he does so with a touch of whimsy. When he’s dumped into a world of whimsy and half-truths like Big Fish, he provides the gravitas needed to ground a movie with its head as far in the clouds as this one. He almost never gets out of bed, yet he is the backbone of the entire film.
Personal storytime: This is essentially a movie about Will Bloom trying to get the “real story” out of his dad before he dies. It struck a chord with me big time. I have one living grandparent (Grandma Adele), and she is the last living member of the generation of my family that was around for what I’ve started calling “The Shamban Creation Legend.” Let me explain, as best and as quickly I can, from the pseudo-legendary stories I’ve heard so far.
My Grandpa Marc was born one of four brothers. Sonny (the oldest), Howard, Marc and Billy. When Sonny was around 13-years-old, their father died. I’ve never heard anything about their mother, but Sonny got a job delivering papers, supporting his younger brothers financially throughout their childhood. I learned recently that my grandpa thought Sonny was his dad until a certain age. Here, the details become hazy, but after being more or less raised by Sonny, all three of the little brothers went on to become very, very wealthy. Howard and Grandpa Marc founded a marketing firm together in the 1950’s and Billy outstripped them both with some kind of manufacturing company that I know very little about.
This is the version of the story kicking around in my head, picked up over the course of my life in bits and pieces. Who knows what of it is true? But the whole point of all of this is that the truth isn’t the point. The histories of regular, non-famous families like mine are not usually put down in books or in movies, but passed down from generation-to-generation over the dinner table. They become embellished, surely, but over time they become the story of where you came from, and how you came to be.
Its a story I didn’t realize I wanted to write until we watched Big Fish. Most importantly, it’s a story that I’m running out of time to learn because all four brothers are dead, as are all their wives besides Grandma Adele. Since we watched Big Fish, I’ve reached out to Adele, and the children of Howard, Sonny and Billy (my second cousins I think) and plan to get a full view of these four men who laid the foundation for the modern iteration of my family.
That was the effect this film had on me. When that happens, I think proper criticism becomes irrelevant. KEEP IT.