By Kirby Davis, The Miami Student
Given that there are over 64 million Netflix subscribers, and Oxford no longer has a working movie theatre, we’ll be bringing you weekly movie reviews solely about films available to stream on Netflix. Happy Netflix-ing.
“Big Fish” chronicles both an intimate, struggling father-son relationship and the father’s illustrious, yet dubiously truthful, life story.
Billy Crudup plays Will Bloom, a grown man living in Paris and estranged from his father Edward (Albert Finney.) When Ed becomes seriously ill, Will and his pregnant wife, Josephine (Marion Cotillard) reluctantly return to Will’s small Alabama hometown to say goodbye.
Here, Ed’s illustrious life story and the shaping of his borderline contentious relationship with his son are revealed through a series of flashbacks. Will realizes, at the urging of Josephine and his mother Sandra (Jessica Lange), that his resentment toward Ed is not because he’s annoyed with his elaborate storytelling tendencies; it’s because he doesn’t truly know him.
Ed then begins to tell his life story. Though most seems fabricated, the ailing storyteller is so earnest in recounting his narrative that even its fantastical aspects — his teenaged self (Ewan McGregor) encountering a psychic witch (Helena Bonham Carter) and befriending a cave-dwelling giant (Matthew McGrory), for example — seem plausible.
The film, directed by Tim Burton, is a family drama and a singular man’s fantasy, but also explores multiple complex love stories.
Ed and Sandra’s is the most intriguing. When they meet for the first time, at a crowded circus event, time literally stops for Ed — he spots his future wife and crosses a crowd full of popcorn, hula hoops, and people frozen in midair determined to meet her. This, of course, doesn’t work out right away, but Ed, the eternal optimist, is up for the challenge. He offers to work for the ringleader (Danny Devito) for nothing but information regarding the elusive Sandra, and does so for months.
It’s personal, passionate stories like this that make “Big Fish” so entertaining. Ed’s flashback sequences appear to be taking place in a dreamy, Instagram-filtered haze, and the idyllic 1950s suburban aesthetic is a welcome contrast with present-day scenes of stark hospital rooms.
Josephine and Sandra both understand and appreciate Ed, but the question remains as to whether or not his own son will. This suspense is mildly heartbreaking, and, ultimately, relatable. We’ve all had moments in which we grow frustrated with our parents’ habits or lack of understanding our own lives, though most rarely last for years as they do for Will.
The misunderstood-parent- on-their-deathbed trope is contrived, but the film’s copious, whimsical flashbacks make Will and Ed’s relationship an exception.
A strong supporting cast helps, too. Steve Buscemi is darkly hilarious as Spectre’s resident town poet, and Alison Lohman is emotional and touching as young Sandra Bloom, as is Lange as her adult counterpart.
The film strikes an ideal balance between fantasy, drama and comedy, and seamlessly merges what is essentially Ed’s autobiography with his son’s journey of forgiveness and maturity.
There are very few movies that I feel sad after watching, not because they didn’t feel complete, but because I simply didn’t want them to be over. “Big Fish” is one of them.
4 / 4 stars