[)l lAlvl/x BIG FISH (PG) 110mm .00

Tears and fantastical tales

‘A man is always a teller of tales and he tries to live his life as if he is recounting it,’ wrote the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre. Edward Bloom (Albert Finney) is living proof of Sartre’s assertion: a garrulous, larger-than-life character, his being (and nothingness) consists entirely of a string of well- worn, fantastical stories. Edward is much-loved, but his compulsive yarn-spinning has alienated him from his journalist son Will (Billy Crudup), whose wedding day Edward upstaged with a typically scene- stealing speech about how he let a big fish get away in order to save his own treasured wedding ring.

Effectively estranged since that day, Edward and Will are reunited when the father falls ill and the son returns from Paris, together with his French wife, Josephine (Marion Cotillard). Like Edward’s besotted wife, Sandra (Jessica Lange), Josephine soon falls for Edward’s entertaining mendacity. Will, on the other hand, is determined to find the truth behind his father’s slippery fictions. The heart of the film is a gift for director Tim Burton, who gets to stage the edited highlights of Edward’s picaresque wanderings, with a fresh-faced Ewan McGregor as the young Edward and Alison Lohman as the young Sandra, his future wife and love of his life.

A story about a teller of tall tales would seem tailor made for Burton, whose fertile but wayward imagination has often threatened to run away with him. Yet for all its images of gentle giants, Utopian villages full of happy-shiny people, exotic circus performers, cabaret performing conjoined twins and poetry-spouting bank robbers, the film’s big moral message is disappointingly conventional. Based on Daniel Wallace’s novel, Big Fish: A Novel of Mythic Proportions, its weird, whimsical world is

underpinned by the most wholesome and mawkish of family values.

What Will doesn’t realise that there is no objective truth hidden behind the stories, but there is a fictional truth contained within them. It’s not the content of the tales that matters, it’s the way his father tells them, and the magical world they conjure up for his listeners. Although this obvious distinction is laboured to the point of tedium, Tim Burton, screenwriter John August (Charlie’s Angels) and the well-cast actors have plenty of fun acting out Edward’s hyperbolic stories. Even so, this sentimental fable feels more like a shallow, manipulative Terms of Endearment-style weepie than the deep Homeric epic it seems to want to be. (Nigel Floyd)

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BIOGRAPHY SYLVIA (15) 110min .0.

As a film. Sylvia is instantly doomed the non-cooperation of the Plath estate. and specifically the active anger that Frieda Hughes. Plath's daugfirter. feels towarr‘ls the project. Although a few fragments of Plath's poetry have been included. much against her family's wishes. the fact that her stormy relationshrp with Ted Hughes has been well documented in their own words means that Christine a/n Jeff's frlm is constantly marginalised by the respective literary canons concerned. ’l he result is a conventional bioprc. trotting out most. but not all. of the crucial details of famously unhappy lives. but wrth little to draw you into the internecine nature of their relationship.

A tragic life handed out on a Plath

However Sv/vra Isn't a complete downer. largely buoyed up by the rrgorous performances of the stars. Gwyneth Paltrow's track record tn light comedy hardly prepares you for her authentrcally pained performance here. She manages a successful transition from breathless lrterary rngenue. frrst glrmpsed pedallrng her brke with girlish enthusiasm through the streets of Cambrrdge. to a convincrng tragrc herorne. Danrel Crarg brrngs a strikrng edge to Hughes. barkrng out hrs lrnes with authentrc fervour. yet reeking of self~regard

foreground hrstrronrcs asrde. your attention here rs drawn to the Hughes' small children one of whom grew up to be Plath's daughter -- who scramble constantly In the background. As an actrng showcase. Sylvia certainly is an impressrve prece of work. but you may end up feelrng. as Frieda Hughes does. that thrs rs a frlm wrth lrttle poetry. and no sense of the depth of a srngle human heart. (Eddre Harrison)

I Selected release f/om Fri (3’0 Jan,