Retro Review: Tom Hanks is “Big”

– This is the first installment of a potential “Retro Review” series, in which I get to watch movies I’ve never seen and talk about them while everyone that reads this laughs at the “classic” movies I’ve never seen. –

Big is considered the vehicle upon which Tom Hanks rose to stardom and acclaim in the late 1980s. It details a young man who, following a series of frustrations over being too small, makes a wish at a Zoltar machine to be big. The next morning he wakes up in the body of a man in his mid-20s, with none of the people in his life able to recognize him. The rest of the movie follows him attempting to be an adult (getting a job and navigating the waters of romance), while simultaneously trying to find the Zoltar machine to reverse the wish.

First off, even as an adult the possessed Zoltar machine is terrifying. It’s presented with all the tropes of a horror movie totem: the glowing eyes, the creaky mechanical mouth opening and closing. The thing isn’t even plugged into a power outlet, which is horrifying in its own way.

I liked Hanks in this film and I can absolutely give him the same appreciation that anyone else did. His portrayal of Josh is full of the unease and bewilderment any child would experience being separated from their family and friends. This is especially true when he spends the evening in a shady motel: hiding under a pillow, he’s clearly distraught being away from his mother and his own bed.

Josh’s effect on the other characters in the film is endearing: his innocence and child’s perspective makes him a stand out to the CEO of the toy company where he works. His romantic interest Susan is encouraged to look at the fun around her by being with him; it’s about as heartwarming as I can stomach without seeming totally contrived.

The film balances heartwarming with humor, and there’s some genuinely funny moments. Josh’s initial navigation of adult corporate life, with all the politics that entails, manages to entertain while staying away from cheap laughs. John freaking Lovitz is in this movie, and he manages to steal the few scenes he’s in with his sass and sarcasm.

Of course, no movie is without its faults, and Big is no different. Most of the drama in the film is oriented around Josh and his Susan, but she makes decisions that no sensible woman would. This is especially noticeable when she lofts up the “what are we” question to Josh and his response is to throw stuff at her. She just kinda forgets about it and throws stuff back, but why would she do that? Doesn’t seem like the reaction of someone who has a legitimate concern with defining their current relationship.

Through the magic of dating (and touching a female breast for the first time), Josh starts to forget about the childhood he is attempting to reclaim and starts acting big. This is a major part of the movie’s resolution, with Josh telling Susan that he has one million reasons to go back, but only one reason to stay.

I feel like this is the only point in the movie where Tom Hanks’ persona falters, mainly because kids are all about taking the most. Why would one reason outweigh the million in any circumstance? The kid hadn’t reached puberty yet and he honestly considered just skipping to 25? This plot point doesn’t feel real, glaringly so in a movie where the characters are generally written with an air of believability.

The only other gripe I had with the film is the lack of antagonist. Obviously the possessed Zoltar machine is the driving force behind the plot, but when Hanks starts working for the toy company we’re introduced to Paul.

Paul initially goads Susan into seducing Josh, who has moved up in the company instantaneously, for her own career gains. After she comes around to the side of good, Paul is still presented as the overly serious counterpart to Josh despite not doing ANYTHING the rest of the movie. I expected some kind of corporate meddling, but this is a character who knows no successes the entire film, so why is he presented like the villain?

Big was obviously influential in its time, which has the unintended side effect of making it cliche at some points. This movie set up the template for films like Seventeen Again and 13 Going on 30, more contemporary films that tried to accomplish the same thing as Big while riding a lot of its plot conventions into the ground. Still, the film was charming and funny and I really enjoyed watching.

Anyway, here’s “Heart and Soul”:

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About jnmortka

23 years old, writing about whatever catches my interest.
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