The film stars Albert Finney, Billy Crudup, Ewan McGregor (doing a quite respectable Southern accent, much to my surprise), and Jessica Lange, all of whom I respect as actors, and so I figured that I would most likely enjoy the film. Plus, you gotta love Tim Burton. Plus, the film's about storytelling, focusing on the conflict between a pragmatic son and his lack of patience with his fanciful father, who is an unabashed teller of tall tales (which tendency of course ties in with the film's title). And I love a good story about storytelling.
So, anyway, I expected to like the movie. I didn't expect to like it this much, though. I didn't expect to laugh so many times, or to leave the theatre with my face and neck still wet with tears. I found the film really quite extraordinary in its gradual building of emotional weight as well as its storytelling methods and basic themes.
The plot itself combines 's sense of family history and the struggle between fathers and sons (also explored in the film Lone Star), 's sense of storytelling and mythology, 's sense of fantasy and the ever-shiftingly reciprocal relationship between story and storyteller, 's sense of the supernatural and boyhood adventure, and the film Stand By Me's sense of storytelling and humor.
Visually, the film is a shifting mix between Tim Burton's foggy dark shadows and The Truman Show's painfully perky brightness. The result is gorgeous, each different visual effect deftly evoking a specific mood which plays its own role in the telling of the story. The music, too, by the incomparable Danny Elfman (who did such a stunning job with The Nightmare Before Christmas), works beautifully to accentuate the visuals. Really, all aspects of the film impressed me, which doesn't happen very often.
As for the basic themes, I think one of the central ideas in the film is a focus on the non-duality of the relationship between fact and poetry, reason and emotion, truth and metaphor. A person can tell a rather heavily embroidered story about an event which communicates the emotional truth of their experience, even if the "facts" are not recounted exactly as they really happened. The more elaborate, metaphorical, poetic method of telling the story is no less "true" than a dry cataloging of facts ... it's just true in a different way.
It's also a movie about love, in its many varieties of perception and expression. What one person perceives as neglect, another may perceive as expression of deep affection. I think most of us have experienced this disconnect in our own relationships (especially romantic relationships) at some time or another, and so I found it interesting to see the issue explored in some detail in the film.
All of the performances are excellent. A few actors have relatively small roles in which they are nonetheless wonderful: Steve Buscemi, for example, is hilarious as a poet, Helena Bonham Carter is unexpectedly perfect as a witch, and Danny DeVito is comedically riveting as a circus' master of ceremonies.
I expect Albert Finney will be nominated for Best Actor when the Academy Award nominations are announced, and he certainly deserves the nomination. I predict that the film will also be nominated for Best Movie.
As we were leaving the theatre, Shannon turned to me and said, "It's this year's American Beauty." I heard another person passing us saying, "I'm buying that the second it gets released on DVD!"
Ack! Now I've probably raised such high expectations that y'all will be disappointed if/when you see it for yourselves. Oh well. Perhaps I should tell you that the film is mediocre, so that you'll be pleasantly surprised ... except that I don't lie about such things. If I love a movie, I say so, and in detail.
Thus spake Kimberly: The movie is darn good.