Running Time: 110 mins
For just a few opening minutes, it looked as though this could not be a Tim Burton film. What was he doing? Some father-son storytelling like A River Runs Through It? A straightforward piece of Americana? The doubts are quickly dispersed and we are back in Burton territory. Yet, it is unlike anything he has done before even if there are visual references to other films, like the box-house suburbia of Edward Scissorhands.
This is a film for those who delight in storytelling.
Once we have got our bearings, we find we are listening to a tall story about a larger than life fish, that Albert Finney is relating it at his son's, Billy Crudup's wedding. And, instead of it being an endearing situation, it is the occasion for alienation. It's the kind of film that defies a neat synopsis as it moves from present to past, from reality to fantasy, from story to story.
Albert Finney is masterful as he invents his life, especially as he comes to the end of it. Billy Crudup is earnest as his less than imaginative son who has heard the stories a thousand times but wants to understand his father before he dies. Much of the film is about his father as a young man who finds he has great talents, leaves town with a giant and finds himself saving a community, finding and wooing his wife and embarking on a whole lifetime of adventures from down the street to Vietnam. The young man is played with charm and supreme self-confidence by Ewan McGregor. Jessica Lange has a smaller role as the mother and Helena Bonham Carter gives one of her calmest performances as a mysterious woman who may be a witch.
That is description and a taste of the plot and performances. It is too difficult in words to communicate Burton's ability to create a different and wonderful world full of truly magic moments, a mixture of the mundane and the marvellous, the tragic and the comic, building up to an ending that diehard realists may be annoyed by but illustrates the wonder of storytelling.