Jump to content
Sign in to follow this  
Overstreet

Big Fish (2003)

Recommended Posts

So, thanks to Continental Airlines, I missed out on the LA screening for this film. And, thanks to the film studio, I will miss the Seattle screening because they've scheduled it for the same day as the LA Lord of the Rings junket. But next to Return of the King, there's no film I'd rather see RIGHT NOW than Big Fish, which stars Albert Finney, Jessica Lange, Ewan Mcgregor, Alison Lohman, Billy Crudup, Danny Devito, Steve Buscemi, and Helena Bonham-Carter.

Anyway, while I was in LA, I heard a lot of praise for the film from the religious press critics who had made it to the screening. And now, one of those folks, Barbara Nicolosi, has chimed in with a blog-review:

BIG FISH: SOUL (SEA)FOOD

QUOTE I really liked this new film coming from Sony/Columbia Pictures. Based on the book by Daniel Wallace, the adaptation was helmed by Tim Burton and features a daunting school of actors ...  

[snip]

This film is unlike anything else you have seen lately. It is a drama with strong fantasy and comedic elements - hearkening back to Forest Gump in tone and style. Screenwriter John August serves up a brilliantly crafted tale here that utilizes every fish in the cinematic sea to deliver a good story and some profound themes. Big Fish combines real poetic imagery, composition, the juxtaposition of images(editing, for short) where most movies barely even nod at these potentials. Burton does a great job reeling in humane and \"better than real\" performances from his talented ensemble.

The film has several worthy themes - in the way that \"great art is about everything.\" Primarily, for the filmmakers, Big Fish is about the essential journey toward acceptance and reconciliation between fathers and sons. There is also a strong underlying premise about the role of stories in human life - why we love them, and why we need them - that I found lovely. Thirdly, the film offers a whimsical vision of what I can only call HOLY matrimony - which twenty-something, hip and stunning, actress Alison Lohman referred to as, \"Well, it's what we all really want, isn't it?\"

Big Fish is entertaining, delightful, sad, provocative, fresh and well-crafted. After the screening, a group of us writer types sat in the car happily unraveling the metaphors and revisiting some of the films quirky and cool moments. Big Fish is the kind of film you bring your thoughtful friends too, so you can grow together through it and after it.



Wow.

She then goes on to defend the film's use of nudity, which is interesting considering the way she attacks Love Actually in the same blog for its misuse of nudity.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just linking to the thread on Jeff's transportation woes, in which I mentioned that "the trailer for this film certainly looks interesting -- even if Ewan McGregor's accent is a little too reminiscent of that aw-shucks voice he put on while seducing Renee Zellweger in Down with Love."

Barbara Nicolosi wrote:

: It is a drama with strong fantasy and comedic elements - hearkening

: back to Forest Gump in tone and style.

Hmmm, this is NOT a plus, in my books.

: Screenwriter John August . . .

Hmmm, (co-)writer of Go, Titan A.E. and the two Charlie's Angels movies.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Weird. This movie combines elements from all three of the movies I've seen since last night -- from the journalism-versus-telling-tall-tales stuff of Shattered Glass to the young-happy-couple-who-start-a-family-and-go-on-to-face-a-potentially-adulterous-situation of The Secret Lives of Dentists, with just a bit of the conjoined-twin stuff of Stuck on You. And it's easily better than all three of those films -- indeed, it's easily the best thing Tim Burton has done since at least Ed Wood, and possibly his most mature film EVER. (Curious side note: An article in today's National Post observes that the three Burton films that have received the most acclaim all feature protagonists named Edward.) The film's conclusion is both heartwarming and a little sad; on the one hand, I can appreciate what the film is saying about the importance of stories and so forth, but on the other hand, I was reminded of Steve Taylor's line to the effect that "I'd rather be immortal by not dying." But I'll try to hold my Christian cynicism in check; this is a great film that needs to be seen and discussed.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh, and if I was reminded of Forrest Gump at all, it was because the film does that thing of telling you which era you're in by playing certain songs on the soundtrack. Ironically, to a person like me who was born in 1970, this had the effect of making me nostalgic not for the 1950s and 1960s, but for the 1980s, which is when I first discovered Buddy Holly's 'Every Day' (in 1986's Stand By Me) and The Vogues' 'Five O'Clock World' (in 1987's Good Morning, Vietnam).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Peter T Chattaway wrote:

Weird. This movie combines elements from all three of the movies I've seen since last night -- from the journalism-versus-telling-tall-tales stuff of
Shattered Glass
to the young-happy-couple-who-start-a-family-and-go-on-to-face-a-potentially-adulterous-situation of
The Secret Lives of Dentists
, with just a bit of the conjoined-twin stuff of
Stuck on You
.

What about the father-figure(s)-telling-tall-tales-to-young-man-who-wants-to-know-what-is-really-true stuff of Secondhand Lions? That's what I kept thinking of.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: Anthony Lane is not entirely satisfied with it.

Hmmm, yet another unfavorable comparison to Forrest Gump. And yet this film did not annoy me as much as that film did, perhaps because this film did not pretend to be a comment on the politics of our times, and perhaps also because it was not as cynical.

: But he sure likes Scarlett Johansson in Girl with the Pearl Earring!

His remark about the scene where she wets her lips ("she doesn’t do anything so lubriciously modern as to show her tongue, but gently sucks each lip in like a lozenge") reminds me that I REALLY came to be annoyed by the way LL Cool J kept licking himself when I saw Deliver Us from Eva. I've noticed that films with urban, hip-hoppy characters tend to have instances of that (the most recent such example probably being Honey) -- am I just not noticing this in other films, or is this a genuinely current trend within the culture (or a subculture)?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've noticed that films with urban, hip-hoppy characters tend to have instances of that (the most recent such example probably being Honey)

And don't forget Raising Victor Vargas: Victor did that obsessively, and he even explained why.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

YIKES!!

A. O. Scott writes in the New York Times: "The film insists on viewing its hero [Finney] as an affectionate, irrepressible raconteur. From where I sat, he looked more like an incorrigible narcissist and also, perhaps, a compulsive liar, whose love for others is little more than overflowing self-infatuation."

Thoughts from you who have seen it? (I'm seeing it tomorrow, finally, provided Continental Airlines doesn't flatten the tires of my car.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Okay, here are my thoughts at this time.

I really, really want to like this movie. Somebody try to persuade me, if you can.

But my opinion converges with Scott's. Look beyond the glossy whimsy, the wacky Burtonesque imagery, the immaculately crafted compositions, and it seems to me that the Finney character is a man who lived so much in his own inner world that he was unable to engage people who were unable or unwilling to join him in it, even his own son.

He may have been a faithful and even doting husband, but he wasn't a very attentive or even present one -- granted, it wasn't his fault (if this part really happened) that...

he was called up for military service, missing in action, and presumed dead...

...but what about...

all the time and money he spent on his obsession with the town of Specter, especially all the time he spent fixing up Jenny's house, when he could have been home with his family?

I'm also concerned that the movie may be picking up where Secondhand Lions left off, saying in effect not only, "Who cares what's real? 'Believe' whatever tickles your fancy!" but even "Stories are interesting, reality is banal, so care about the former and not the latter."

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

SDG wrote:

: He may have been a faithful and even doting husband, but he wasn't a

: very attentive or even present one . . .

We know he wasn't a very attentive FATHER, but I'm not so sure that the film requires us to doubt his attentiveness to his wife. Granted, Jessica Lange doesn't have much to do here (apart from that one great scene of her getting into the tub with him), but I think we're just supposed to accept that her character and Finney's have always gotten along just fine. What I DID wonder, while watching the film, was whether the son had tried confirming any aspects of his father's stories with his mother -- what is HER story of how they met? -- and I do think the film could have been more interesting if it had gone that route, and explored not just the tension between fact and myth but between different and even competing myths. I admit that the film COULD have better explored how telling stories and receiving stories sometimes go hand-in-hand.

: I'm also concerned that the movie may be picking up where Secondhand

: Lions left off, saying in effect not only, "Who cares what's real? 'Believe'

: whatever tickles your fancy!" but even "Stories are interesting, reality is

: banal, so care about the former and not the latter."

Yeah, this is what I was kinda getting at when I said the film was kinda sad. I DO believe that intersubjective (and not merely subjective) realities are more interesting and even potentially more truthful than objective realities. This desk exists -- that's a fact; the REASON it exists -- that's a story; and I do think the story is more interesting and even more truthful than the fact. But there has to be some larger, capital-T Truth behind our stories if they are to be true, y'know? And I guess it's a question of whether you see this capital-T Truth behind Edward Bloom's stories or whether you think his stories are just an artful form of denial.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Peter T Chattaway wrote:

SDG wrote:

: He may have been a faithful and even doting husband, but he wasn't a

: very attentive or even present one . . .

We know he wasn't a very attentive FATHER, but I'm not so sure that the film requires us to doubt his attentiveness to his wife.

No comment on the specific example I cited in hidden text?

Granted, Jessica Lange doesn't have much to do here (apart from that one great scene of her getting into the tub with him), but I think we're just supposed to accept that her character and Finney's have always gotten along just fine.

Exactly -- we're just supposed to accept that Lange is satisfied, even though Finney's behavior doesn't actually look all that satisfying or satisfactory. Is she satisfied because he's a good husband, or because the film doesn't have that much interest in her as a character and has such affection for Finney that it assumes any woman would be happy to have him? (He's quite a catch, you know...)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I haven't read all of your thoughts yet, because I wanted to form my own response first. So here's my response (YES, I FINALLY SAW THE FILM).

To sum up: I was curiously indifferent at the close of the film, although at various moments it moved me to tears. If it had focused on the plots of most potential-- namely, the love story, and the intuitive intimacy of the couple--it would have resonated much more for me.

- - -

Initial response:

Tim Burton

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Incidentally, one of the reviews Jeff linked to mentioned The Barbarian Invasions in connection with this film, which is interesting, since I remember a fleeting thought to that effect passing through my mind as I saw Tim Burton's film, too.

SDG wrote:

: No comment on the specific example I cited in hidden text?

Not really. It is the son, not the wife, who complains about that, no?

: Exactly -- we're just supposed to accept that Lange is satisfied, even

: though Finney's behavior doesn't actually look all that satisfying or

: satisfactory. Is she satisfied because he's a good husband, or because

: the film doesn't have that much interest in her as a character and has

: such affection for Finney that it assumes any woman would be happy to

: have him? (He's quite a catch, you know...)

This is exactly the sort of skepticism I was trying to put on hold ... smile.gif

Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: While the rest of the film is full of fairy tale and whimsy, there is

: something strangely bland about the tone of the film. So many great

: ideas, but most of them grunt with the strain of lifting the audience out of

: reality and into the levity of old folk tales––for the most part I was not as

: swept away as I usually am with Burton’s reckless imagination.

That's interesting, because I found the "reality" stuff fairly light to begin with -- it's more or less just a framing device for the tall tales -- so I didn't feel I needed to be lifted out of it; I didn't feel a whole lot of gravity there.

: Unfortunately, the core of the story is misguided. Edward Bloom wants to

: make up for the details of his life by spinning all kinds of tales in which

: he is the center, he is the hero, he is God’s gift to the world. No wonder

: he has annoyed his son! Why hasn’t he annoyed anyone else?

Well, the only other person who has to LIVE with Edward Bloom is his wife. If memory serves, he's a travelling salesman, so he's SUPPOSED to charm people, and perhaps stretch the truth a little while persuading them to buy his products; he's not exactly working in an office with people he sees every day. And because we are seeing him through the eyes of his son, it is just possible -- just -- that there is a side of him that lets the shield down once in a while, but that side has been eclipsed by the son's preoccupation with the one thing that annoys him most.

: The conclusion of the film felt unfortunately empty, because we are left

: with the suggestion that we become "immortal" by making the world

: remember us in a romantic and exaggerated way.

This, too, is partly what I was getting at when I called the film "sad", but I am not as troubled as you by the "romantic and exaggerated" part.

: Edward’s life is one of self-interest, as fanciful and fun as it is. If he had

: concentrated on illuminating the lives of others and contributing to their

: experiences, he would have made a much more meaningful mark.

What about the town of Spectre, though? (BTW, who tells the story of the town's reconstruction and the renovation of Helena Bonham Carter's house? Whose perspective do we see that through? Was it Edward himself, or did HBC have anything to say about that?)

: Stories told by those who have rejected faith as merely a dry system of

: rules and regulations end up reflecting God in what they are seeking, but

: not in what they find. Burton has touched on many evidences of glory,

: but in taking the darker more dangerous path, he ends up lost.

Um, I'm not even sure what these two sentences MEAN, in the context of this film.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There is a shot in which Edward steps into a church, IIRC, and there is a teacher at the front with a chart mapping out the territory of right and wrong, and how we measure our morality. The camera quickly retreats. While the film didn't come down on religion as hard as I expected, the church of Ed's childhood is hardly a warm or inviting place, and that second glimpse is definitely a negative impression. Without being able to subscribe to the higher reality of the Gospel (and that may not be entirely his fault, as no one shows him the gospel), Edward retreats to his own fairy tales in search of absolution and meaning.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

SDG wrote:

: No comment on the specific example I cited in hidden text?

Not really. It is the son, not the wife, who complains about that, no?

But whom the screenwriter allows to complain, and who is really cheated thereby, aren't necessarily the same issue, are they?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Jeffrey Overstreet wrote:

: There is a shot in which Edward steps into a church, IIRC, and there is a

: teacher at the front with a chart mapping out the territory of right and

: wrong, and how we measure our morality. The camera quickly retreats.

: While the film didn't come down on religion as hard as I expected, the

: church of Ed's childhood is hardly a warm or inviting place, and that

: second glimpse is definitely a negative impression.

[ blink ]

I do not remember those shots.

WHY do I not remember those shots?

SDG wrote:

: : It is the son, not the wife, who complains about that, no?

:

: But whom the screenwriter allows to complain, and who is really cheated

: thereby, aren't necessarily the same issue, are they?

Who defines who is "really cheated"? I'll take the wife's word over yours in this case. smile.gif

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

SDG wrote:

: : It is the son, not the wife, who complains about that, no?

:

: But whom the screenwriter allows to complain, and who is really cheated

: thereby, aren't necessarily the same issue, are they?

Who defines who is "really cheated"? I'll take the wife's word over yours in this case. smile.gif

And if he had been unfaithful to her, and she had been content, would you say the same?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Sign in to follow this  

×
×
  • Create New...