Being a big fish--even in a small pond--takes a great deal of effort. For Edward Bloom (Ewan McGregor/Albert Finney), every incident in his life has been carefully cultivated and fed until it grows into a fish story worthy of hooking any audience's attention.
But for one listener, those tall tales are just too much. After years of hearing about the big fish that swallowed his wedding ring, along with other epics involving a giant, a circus ringleader, and Chinese conjoined twin singers, Edward's son William (Billy Crudup) simply couldn't bear hearing one more yarn--especially at his wedding reception. Leaving the room that night, the boy also walks away from his parents' life.
Years later William gets a call from his mother (Jessica Lange) informing him of his father's failing health. Returning home with his wife (Marion Cotillard), the estranged son again finds himself at the mercy of his Dad's nostalgic narrative. Recognizing this is his last opportunity to try and understand this man, William begs for some straight answers. His father's response is that he's always told him the truth.
Still not satisfied, William heads to the small Alabama town where much of his dad's life took place. There he finds a prominent character from his father's stories, and learns much about the real Edward Bloom's achievements and failures.
Director Tim Burton, known for his oft times bizarre imagination, manages to create a unique film that can best be described as Death of a Salesman with a generous sprinkling of Burtonesque seasoning.
Whether coincidentally or by design, the movie does a good job of paralleling the viewers experience with the son's perspective. For the first half of the film, watching dramatizations of the father's stories becomes a tedious process that borders on pointless. Why are we listening to these countless trumped up tales? In the second half, as William attempts to sift fact from fiction, the audience is willing to try and find some answers too.
However there is still a difficult question that may sink this movie's potential: What demographic is supposed to bite at this story? Certainly at times, the vivid images are somewhat childlike and reminiscent of the ghost stories likely to be told at summer camp. Yet the central theme of an adult child trying to reconcile with a parent is clearly aimed at a more mature crowd. So are the infrequent inclusions of strong profanities, rear male and female nudity, and a joke about a milkman that includes a crude sexual reference.
Despite a sincere effort by the cast and a sentimental ending, this abstract premise may leave most theatergoers feeling like this is one Big Fish that got away.