The conflict between critics and moviegoers has been around for a while now. It goes something like this:
Critics, who see a lot of films for free because it's their job, hate predictable, schmaltzy movies and adore original ideas. They embrace independent films (even if they are boring, like "Whale Rider"), they like to be won over by a movie and they like to categorize films by genre. A favorite phrase: "Wow, that was so much better than typical Hollywood fare."
The average moviegoer, who sees a picture every now and then for fun, is more likely to pay $6.75 to see a safe movie that taps into proven formulas (hence the James Bond series, Stephen King adaptations and the remake of "Cheaper by the Dozen"). Already won over by the previews, they are pre-determined to like a film unless it's completely awful; they understand that all movies are fantasies. A standard refrain: "Hey, it's just a movie."
Enter "Big Fish," wherein director Tim Burton reconciles the differences between cynics and escapists. "Big Fish" is indeed a schmaltzy, light-hearted movie, yet it's gorgeously creative.
It's not a fantasy film; it's just a simple tale of a father and son who don't see eye to eye. However, the value of escapism and adventure is more central to "Big Fish" than even "Lord of the Rings" and "Star Wars." Using colorful settings and a delightful performance by Ewan McGregor, Burton lovingly explores emotional reality versus objective reality; my only complaint is that Burton and screenwriter John August didn't go a couple notches further with this theme.
Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) always liked hearing his dad tell bedtime stories when he was younger but now he realizes he knows nothing about his dad. So he visits bed-ridden Ed Bloom (Albert Finney) to get the real story of his life. But Ed still has nothing but tall tales to offer.
Title: "Big Fish"
Playing at: Movies 10 at Westgate
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman, Helena Bonham Carter, Steve Buscemi
Written by: John August, based on Daniel Wallace's novel
Director: Tim Burton
Although Ed appears to be dying, he insists it's not his time yet. When he was a boy he looked into a witch's eye and learned how would die. This liberating knowledge led him to take risks. Young Ed (McGregor) wanders into forests where trees can swallow a person whole, offers himself up as a human sacrifice to a giant and works as a lion tamer at a circus for no pay.
Obsessed with a girl in a blue dress named Sandra (Alison Lohman), Ed tracks her down at college and says, "You don't know me, but I've been in love with you for years and I'm going to marry you." She is delighted. (In any other movie, this is where you'd cue the critics' groans and the average moviegoers' "awwws.") Sandra wants to marry Ed but she's engaged to a jerk (another convenient Hollywood plot point), so Ed sways her by buying an entire field of daffodils (a tired clich).
Indeed, Burton turns contrivances and clichs into cinematic art and dares both critics and average moviegoers not to like the movie. As someone caught in the middle (I review movies, but only the ones I want to see anyway), I'm not going to take that dare.
"Lost in Translation" was one of the best movies of 2003 because it portrayed the world as stylishly, depressingly real. "Big Fish" is among the best because it shows Ed Bloom's world as stylishly, happily fake.
Except in the place it matters most.
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