Watched Big Fish last night, a very enjoyable mainstream effort from Tim Burton that eschewed his usual Aubrey Beardsley / Edward Gorey-fied art direction in favor of something a little more expansive and hopeful. A local-boy-makes-good story that wouldn’t be out of place in the Preston Sturges catalog, it draws from a number of ideas – his own ‘Pee Wee’s Big Adventure”, a little ‘Forrest Gump’-ish-ness without the cloying earnestness, a little ‘Barton Fink’ without the dark psychosis, and even a sequence that reminded me a little of ‘A Boy and His Dog’s’ Topeka. Ewan MacGregor enacts the life story of a near-his-deathbed Albert Finney. MacGregor’s one of those actors who delivers admirably when cast and directed well. He’ll never resuscitate a lousy movie, but he’ll make a good one better, and he strikes every right note as the enthusiastic protagonist of Finney’s tall-tale life story. Some other pleasant and unexpected surprises – Billy Crudup is pitch-perfect as the skeptical, resentful son who slowly comes around on ol’ Dad without a single sentimental misstep. Danny DeVito creates a terrific character out of seeming comic-book thin air in very brief screen time. They didn’t give her much to do, but it’s nice to see some solid early work from Marion Cotillard. And I found myself admiring the musical score, and being pleasantly surprised that it was, yet again, Danny Elfman, not sounding anything like his usual semi-goofball self. I wish composers like John Williams and James Newton Howard could figure out how to push their trademark envelopes like this.
A very, very good film. Despite my boredom with his usual spook-house M.O., I’m inclined to take Tim Burton a little more seriously after this. Highly recommended.