Time to finish up another series as we look forward to all the promise that 2022 holds in store for everyone. It may not feel like it, but there are opportunities everywhere at all times. We each just need to know how to capitalize. In an odd way, that kind of thinking reminds me of some of the themes from my final installment in the fatherhood series – Big Fish (2003, dr. Tim Burton).
Big Fish is the story of a dying man, Edward Bloom (Albert Finney), whose son Will (Billy Crudup) is being forced to come to grips with how much of his life has been a lie based on the tales his father told him growing up. We get to see Edward as a young man (Ewan McGregor) during which many of these tall tales occur. They are clearly larger than life and filled with embellishments, but we never are truly sure what is fact and what is fiction, causing understandable frustration from Will. In going through Edward’s past, we meet the Tim Burton standard set of fantastical characters including Spectre’s famous poet Norther Winslow (Steve Buscemi), a giant named Karl (Matthew McGrory), young Sandra Templeton (Alison Lohman) who would later become Edward’s wife (Jessica Lange), and several others.
Burton has said that “Big Fish is about what’s real and what’s fantastic, what’s true and what’s not true, what’s partially true and how, in the end, it’s all true.” That is some confusing logic, but after you have seen the film, it makes perfect sense. Adding a little flair for the dramatic to spruce up some stories is not really lying. And, even if it is, why can’t the stories be facts encircled by entertainment?
This one gets personal for me as well. Anyone who has ever met my father would easily tell you about how he has captivated them with one of his stories. Is it possible that his stories have a similar level of embellishment? Of course – but you won’t hear any of those people complaining. And you won’t hear me complaining about it either. I have loved every conversation I have had with my father, and nine times out of ten, I have been entertained by them as well.
I can certainly see people having issues with the film. It is a little high on the “convenient wrap up the storyline” factor. It relies a little heavily on flashback and voiceover. If the outer adult in your squashes the inner child in you, you will likely have a miserable time watching it. All that makes sense to me, but I have yet to get all the way through Will’s final story with dry eyes. So while you may see some of those elements as moviemaking flaws, I see all of them as enhancements to a wholly entertaining film. The film works very hard to create the same world viewed through two lenses: that of a cynic and that of true romantic. As Robert Guillaume’s Dr. Bennett notes, “If I had to choose between the true version and an elaborate one involving a fish and a wedding ring, I might choose the fancy version.” This film is the fancy version of a father-son relationship. I choose that one, too.
FUN FACT – When Edward first enters the town of Spectre, there is a man playing a banjo on a porch in the background. That man is none other than Billy Redden – who was the key figure in the most famous filmed banjo scene of all time in Deliverance, playing alongside Ronny Cox.
Just Watch says that Big Fish is streaming on Starz. It is also available for purchase on several platforms, including Amazon, YouTube, and Redbox.