A frustrated son tries to determine the facts from the fiction in his dying father's life.
This soft, thin magic-realist fable concerns the fabulous (and largely self-fabricated) life of Edward Bloom, a garrulous Southerner played in his youth by Ewan McGregor and on his deathbed by Albert Finney. Edward is a devoted teller of tall tales, which charms everyone except his son, Will (Billy Crudup), who must overcome this estrangement before his father's death. There is an interesting family drama hidden behind all the whimsy and moonshine, but the movie is so steadfast in its admiration for Edward and his inventions that it never considers that Will might have a point. The movie, in consequence, lacks one, as it wanders through a series of cute, fairy-tale episodes, featuring, among other things, a glass-eyed witch, a pair of conjoined Korean chanteuses, and a town where nobody wears shoes. Tim Burton's imagination, so wild and marvelous in movies like "Pee Wee's Big Adventure," "Edward Scissorhands" and "Beetlejuice," seems to have been tamed. Rather than resonating with the uncanny magic of the unconscious, his images seem to be part of a strategy of denial, designed to obscure the possibility that Edward, a charismatic raconteur, might also be a narcissist and a compulsive liar. Will might forgive these lapses — that is a son's prerogative, after all. Far worse, from the audience's point of view, is that Edward is also a bit of a bore. — A. O. Scott
2003-12-10 | A. O. Scott | Read the New York Times Review of Big Fish