Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Big (Marshall. 1988)

"I wish I were big...."

It would take a very special circumstance for me to want to see a grown man act like a child. I seem to be in the minority, but I do not find it funny. In fact, it is something that makes me rather sad. Big is a movie that solely depends on its leading man to act like a child. Do I hate it? Well, I certainly don't like it. But there is something about Tom Hanks' enthusiasm that makes this particular performance bearable.

Admitting to being drawn-in by a Tom Hanks performance is about as compelling as telling a reader that I like cake. But then again, I don’t like cake. There is just an undeniable exuberance in his character that captures the extremely exaggerated world of a thirteen year old boy. His body language is awkwardly pre-pubescent and his voice is shaky with upward inflection. Hanks brings life to a character that desperately needs life to even seem remotely believable.

Big follows that story of a young boy named Josh Baskins (Hanks). After being turned down by everything from the pretty girl to the hot new roller coaster, Josh is feeling a tad inadequate. He ventures off on his own around the carnival in an adolescent fit of self-pity. I challenge a filmmaker to find a more depressing place than a carnival. All that was missing in this scene was Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself” blaring Clueless-style in the background.

Eventually, Josh comes across a strange wish-granting carnival game called Zoltar. He inserts a quarter and vaguely wishes to be “big”. We found our movie title. When he wakes up the next morning he finds that his wish has come true. Josh is now in the body of a 30 year old man. But Josh is not in the future; it is not the simple. Everyone sees him as a 30 year old, but he is still 13 on the inside. After trying to explain the transformation to his mother, she threatens to stab him in disbelief – forcing him to find help in another place.

Josh’s best friend, Billy (Jared Rushton), believes his friend and the two sneak off to New York to hide away for a while. As straightforward as this may seem, screenwriter Gray Ross is missing a major point in his own plot. The police are shown to be looking for Josh. He is considered a missing child. We watch as his mother cries for her lost son. But Josh is much more concerned with blowing silly string from his nose. I could not laugh at the action because I was concerned for the mental health of that poor mother.

Of course Big becomes even more complicated when Josh realizes he will need an adult job to survive in New York. He uses a fake social security number (his friend’s locker combination, plus 12) on his application and unknowingly tricks the human resources manager into thinking he went to George Washington University. He gets the job working in computers for a toy company, and uses his child-like approach to business to immediately catch the attention of his boss.

Josh also gets the attention of one of his co-workers, Susan. At first, she sees him as a one night stand, but his quirky apartment furnishes get in the way of her plans. To be honest, after a date like that, I would be worried that Josh was a pedophile. His apartment is cluttered with toys. If you do not know about the whole…bein’ 13 thing…the toy obsession should seem a little strange.

Like with Josh’s mother, I am forced to feel a little bad for Susan. Played by Elizabeth Perkins (in one of her first attractive roles), Susan is a woman who uses sex to gain work-place status. It is said that she has slept with a chain of her co-workers, but Josh is different to her. She loves that he has a lust for life. And yes, it is hinted that they do eventually sleep together. Am I the only one that finds that weird? Josh does finally tell her that he is a child trapped in an adult body, but she does not know the extent of what he is saying. Then, all of a sudden and for virtually no reason, she believes him. She fell in love with a child, yet shows no sign of emotional disgrace or embarrassment? Nobody thinks that is weird but me? Really….

In a nutshell, Josh Baskins is an incredibly selfish character. I understand that he is 13, but there have been some smart children in film. Instead of blaming his shortcomings on age, blame them on a narrow and thoughtless screenplay. He emotionally damages his poor mother, disregards the feelings of his best friend and stomps on the heart of a skank trying to reform for him. Yet the audience is supposed to feel bad when he finally starts to miss his home?!

Outside of Hanks’ performance, there is nothing particularly good about Big. In fact, I think the story being told is actually kinda bad. Not only is Josh an unappealing character, but I think he is on his way to having some significantly negative psychological issues. A movie is good when it can sweep you away into its own universe. That is what makes it believable. Big takes place in our own backyard, and that, for me, makes it difficult to enjoy.

Big: C

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