Sunday, March 13, 2016


BIG (1988)

Director: Penny Marshall
Screenplay: Gary Ross & Anne Spielberg

Having seen “Big,” so often, that the magic of it has worn thin on me,  but I notice on my latest viewing something I hadn’t thought of before, in that now that Josh has returned to being a normal 13-year old, what will happen to him. Is he a normal 13-year old anymore, after spending six weeks as an adult working in the corporate market, having sex with a women, earning a paycheck, going on dates, exactly how will his life change after this experience? It’s probably not much of a point that people will observe watching the film, but I thought about it. I guess there's no real reason to put that much thought into the film, but still. 

Essentially, "Big" is one of dozens of remakes/re imaginings of the “Freaky Friday,” formula, and it clearly remains the best version of the story, mostly because unlike most of the films in the formula, instead of two characters switching places, we get only one character, when a 13-year old kid named Josh (David Moscow) makes a hash wish on a Zoltar Machine at a carnival, and wakes up the next day as a 30-year old (Tom Hanks, in his star-making role) so it’s becomes a study of one person trying to deal with this problem; instead of two stories, we can be focused on one well-done character. 

Hanks’s Oscar-nominated performance, is quite arguably his best film work to date, playing a 13-year old in an older body, and nailing every little subtlety of his performance, from how he crawls and cries in his bed when staying alone in a shady hotel, or how he spits out a cracker with Beluga caviar on it. 

This was Penny Marshall’s second film as a director, making her a leading directing commodity for years, and the behind the scenes cast is a who’s who now. The D.P. is Barry Sonnenfeld, who’d direct “Get Shorty,” and “Men in Black”, Howard Shore's score is quite underrated for this, one of his earliest films. That said, in hindsight, if there was a real key to the film's greatness, and probably the real clue as to the artist of the film is in it's Oscar-nominated script by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg. (Steven’s sister) 

Gary Ross is one of the most underrated of filmmakers in Hollywood, he would go on to write Ivan Reitman's film “Dave,” as well as "Mr. Baseball" and he would then write and direct “Pleasantville,” and “Seabiscuit”. most recently. he directed the first "The Hunger Games" movie, a few other films. To me, he's clearly the artist behind the film, even more than Marshall. One of his common themes has always been both fish out of water stories, but also a focus on identity. In "Dave" a President impersonator, suddenly has to actually impersonate the President and in the process becomes a better person who's more infuriated with government and begins to use his new, sudden powers to change himself and the country. "Pleasantville", his masterpiece, which I've already added to this Canon of Film, begins as a strange tale of two '90s teenagers who then get transported into a 1950's sitcom, but not only do they quietly change, all the characters in their world, also change because of their presence, both figuratively as people and literally as their world changes from black-and-white to color, simultaneously commenting both on modern culture, the supposedly idyllic past, and even challenges the media perceptions of us against our realities. 

He's since strayed a bit more from fantasy but still, a car dealership owner becoming a race horse owner in "Seabiscuit", a rat who strives to learn more about the human world in "The Tale of Despereaux", even in "The Hunger Games", while people criticized him about the action scenes limited by too many jump cuts and jerky handheld direction, which, fine true, but I never cared either way, 'cause what he did well, was the character development as they go from their far-off district and into this competitive world media-focused event-based world, and how the events change them. (Huh, I guess "The Hunger Games" has more in common with "Pleasantville" than it first seems; it's still just nothing more than a professional wrestling storyline but still....) You see, everybody else involved with the movie went elsewhere, but this was definitely a film more in-line with Gary Ross's later work and with "Big".

Still, why does "Big" hold up so well, it can't just be because Tom Hanks became the biggest star in the world, or that we all just love the scene with him about Robert Loggia in the toy store playing piano. Well, for one thing, we love body switching stories. The original "Freaky Friday", at least in the modern time, although it's definitely not a new concept then. but the joke with those movies that use the trick that two-people are switched, from "Vice-Versa" to "Face/Off" even, is that, we're seeing one actor person act like someone else, and then they switch back, walking a mile in someone else's shoes. That's not what happens in "Big" though, it's the world of a 12-year-old, who then becomes a 30-year-old. He's first a child in a man's outfit, he's then got to adjust to living in the adult world, while being a kid, and experiencing more adult things, like work, sex, relationships, and then, when given the option, becoming a kid again, now having had the experience. 

The obvious parallel now we could see, could be puberty itself, or growing up in general. His kid-like naivete works in the beginning, getting a job at a toy factory, even coming up with an idea for Transformers that's 100 times better then "Transformers" ever were, even before Michael Bay got ahold of that, (finger quotes), "Franchise", and he excels, but when he's become to much of an adult, he then starts to stumble at work. This is all one character remember, and for the most part one performance. Hanks nails the fun parts of being a kid, as well as the frightening scared scenes about being a kid, and the gleeful ignorant transition into the adult world, and then the way he slowly becomes more adult. It's one character, turning into another, not just a switching of roles. That's the other major reason this genre exists, this is a subgenre made for great actors to show off their talents. Kids playing adults, as well as adults portraying kids usually different characters, usually in some kind of comedy; these are tough roles for even the best actors. That's another reason Hanks should get more credit for "Big", you ask some people about great overlooked performance, you'll eventually run into somebody who'll note someone like Barbara Harris for "Freaky Friday", or Jamie Lee Curtis for the remake, I might add Fred Savage in "Vice-Versa". arguably his best performance in a film.

Admittedly, as much as I admire "Big" more and more the older I get, but the film works better when you’re young, since we're more willing to be caught up in the magic of it all, but that said, "Big" is clearly the best of the subgenre, not just because it was the smartest and best take on it, but because it just has really talented people doing their best to tell this story way better than, probably it ever should've been. It's a quirky, funny, silly movie about a kid who turns into an adult and back again that launched a lot of great careers and shockingly still holds up and is remembered almost thirty years later. 

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