Why must Englishmen be told they can do a convincing American accent? It leads only to disaster. Ewan McGregor finds this out with his leading role in Big Fish, the oddball family drama from Tim Burton. His hick-like accent is an odd approach to the role of Edward Bloom, a man whose passions are huge. Bloom has the material of a larger-than-life man, so larger-than-life performers are necessary to bring him to life. Albert Finney and McGregor are the men responsible for this, and under the direction of Burton, are capable of drawing on their own desires to live a free and famed lifestyle. That is the goal of many, is it not? Big Fish understands that, somewhat anyway.
Switching Finney to McGregor during a scene in the lake is a scene Burton appears to be so proud of, but in practice, as McGregor stares down the camera, it is made too obvious a switch to be subtle for the narrative. But how seriously can we take Big Fish? When its starring man is born and slides across the hallway of a hospital, there is a tongue-in-cheek variety to its story. Never quite blending that well with the intentions of its earnest prose or coming-of-age topics, the crashing of these cliché stylings with some surprisingly decent comedy is an odd, but comforting collision of ideas. Its mystical qualities are assured and at least interesting, but they do not often collide with the current world. Will Bloom (Billy Crudup) confirms the family drama, and with his touching performance shares many heartfelt, earnest moments with the elder Bloom, portrayed by Albert Finney.
It is their chemistry that leads to flashbacks. Their backbreaking efforts are brief but exponential to the flow of the story. Without them, the interludes with McGregor and how he pieces the Bloom family together would fall on deaf ears. Bloom is a liar, but the lies he spun were to protect or provoke his family into thinking big and being bigger. Encounters with giants and stories of fishing with gold bring about relatively underwhelming visuals, ones that feel akin to that of Terry Gilliam, but without passion. It is the frequency of which Burton uses his gothic stylings in sync with the real world that never works for me. He is more possessed with displaying a valuable font or fright, than something compelling and memorable.
Big Fish has smaller fish to fry. Its focus on the little details is a credit to the vision of Burton. He is so focused on the inner workings of the Bloom family and why they live this way that he forgets to conjure up the magic around them, as well as inside of them. A reflective piece on the bond between father and son, and how differences in hobbies and lifestyle can extend far deeper than simple disagreements on how to spend their free time. There are times where Big Fish is feeling critical of southern living, but the specifics are never brought to the forefront. Comedy for the sake of it, without ever presenting some sensible or definitive reason for it. Big Fish stutters because of that but has enough of a good time with its characters. Its tragedy and misplaced dissection of family ties and well-held lies are typical but touching.