Generally I am an easy mark when it comes to that class of movies that pushes the imagination into the realm of the fantastic. The Adventures of Baron von Munchausen, Time Bandits, Babe, Groundhog Day, The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — these are all movies I liked a great deal, some of them so much that I have seen them many times. So I was prepared to like Big Fish, and I did like it, but not as much as I thought I would.
The story here is based on the conflict between a flamboyant father (played in his youth by Ewan McGregor and in his old age by Albert Finney) and his son, played as an adult by Billy Crudup. As the father says to the son, trying to bridge the very large gap between them: you and I are both storytellers. I tell them and you write them down. And that’s the crux of the problem; Ed Bloom is a free spirit, only vaguely tethered to the earth by his love for his wife and son, otherwise soaring along above them all, having a grand time. His stories are fantastic, his mannerisms huge. His son Will is far more earth-bound, and angry about it all.
The story is, of course, about how these two will reconcile their differences before Ed Bloom dies, and you can guess that it’s not the father who comes around to seeing things the way the son does, but the son who learns, in the last minutes of his father’s life, to open himself to the possibilities of storytelling. I liked the way the relationship was handled, the nature of the conflict, and its resolution, where Will begins to see how his own reality and his father’s weren’t ever really so far apart. So what was the problem?
The story moves back and forth between the real world (for lack of a better word) and Ed Bloom’s larger-than-life, frantically tinted memories and stories. He refuses to acknowledge the difference, and somehow or another, it’s that transition back and forth that slows the movie down in very destructive way. It’s meant to be magical, but the effect is disjointed and dampening.
I’m not a film maker, and I can’t for the life of me figure out how this happened, but I do know this: it’s unfortunate. Because there are some really lovely bits in this movie, truly funny and touching and evocative. I would like those moments to coincide with Ed’s fantastic view of the world, but they don’t, and that seems to me the heart of the problem.