Movie Review by Susan Hodgetts
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Jessica Lange, Alison Lohman
Director: Tim Burton
This odd but extremely entertaining family tale from Tim Burton is engrossing, colourful, and quirky, from the silly visual humour and gentle kidding to the bizarre twists in the plot, complete with touches like a ‘duelling banjos’ pastiche.
When Edward Bloom was 8, confined to bed because of a growth spurt, he relieved his boredom by reading the entire World Book Encyclopaedia. There he read an excerpt about goldfish. “If goldfish are kept in a small bowl, they will remain small. With more space, the fish can double, triple or quadruple its size.”
For young Bloom (Ewan McGregor) this rings true and becomes his mantra. As he grows he becomes the most popular guy in Ashton, Alabama, but he knows that like the goldfish he must go out into the wider world and be more than just a big fish in a small pond.
Bloom’s also a natural born storyteller. He’s the kind of charismatic charming fellow like your great uncle was when you were a kid who spins the most fantastical yarns that you ever heard and desperately want to believe in, even though you know they can’t possibly be true. He’s the kind of guy who could convince you that pear drops grow on trees. So when Bloom (McGregor morphing into Albert Finney in the character’s older incarnation) falls ill in the latter stages of his life, his estranged son Will (Billy Crudup), about to become a father himself, embarks on his own personal journey to separate the man from the myth, and come to terms with who his father really is.
Burton painstakingly re-enacts and combines the collision between fantasy worlds and reality, eliciting a robust performance from Finney as the older Edward Bloom. The vein of humour throughout the film is well placed, balancing nicely its genuinely touching and highly emotional theme with a lightness of touch in the fairytale flashback scenes, making it as light as a very palatable souffle.
The plot constantly takes you in unexpected directions – only in a Tim Burton film could Steve Buscemi pop up as a poet turned bank robber and Helena Bonham Carter star as an old hag.
A highly original and brilliantly conceived idea, in which Burton manages to create a whole world and draw you happily right into it, and one of the film’s great strengths is that you have to think to try and fathom out just what Bloom’s imagining and what he’s not. Add to this how Burton managed to get an elephant to relieve himself on cue with McGregor’s dialogue is a cinematic wonder.