Worth a Watch? - Big (1988)


Credit: 20th Century Fox


One of Tom Hank’s defining roles, Big is a classic coming-of-age film with a heartfelt message at its centre supported by sharp comedy and solid performances from the majority of the cast.


The plot follows thirteen-year-old Josh Baskin when, after failing to impress his crush at a county fair because he was too short to ride a rollercoaster, he wishes upon a busted Zoltar machine to be big and for some unexplained reason the next day he is a fully-grown Tom Hanks. After being chased out of his house by his estranged mother, Josh is forced to rent a flophouse in the city and get a data entry job at Macmillan Toys. Josh ends up meeting and impressing the company’s owner with his child-like enthusiasm and insight into current toys. Throughout the film, Josh is promoted and pulled further and further into a typical adult life with deadlines, stress and less and less time for his best friend. The film culminates with Josh finding out where the Zoltar machine is and wishing himself into a kid again, leaving the audience with the message that you should enjoy your childhood and live in the present, not just look to the future.


Credit: 20th Century Fox


As the star of the film, Tom Hanks kills it in this role. He conveys the emotions of a kid trapped in an adult body so well, especially in the scene where he spends his first night by himself as we can only watch and genuinely feel sorry for Josh. Another scene where Hanks shines is the floor piano scene with Robert Loggia’s toy company president. It’s a simple moment that comes out of nowhere when you least expect it and the actors look like they’re having an awesome time. The single fixed shot of the scene lets you focus purely on what you’re watching right at that moment. This mirrors the message of the film in that by slowing down and focusing just on the present moment you experience things that you may have missed just by focusing on the future.


The rest of the cast does a pretty good job. Jared Rushton gives the film a solid moral anchor as Josh’s best friend Billy. Elizabeth Perkins shines as Josh’s love interest (creepiness of the situation notwithstanding) and John Heard does a convincing job as typical 80’s movie bully antagonist Paul Davenport. Robert Loggia does a fine job as Mr MacMillan but only having a small role in the overall plot he feels a little wasted in the role, putting him in the same basket as Mercedes Ruehl playing Josh’s mum.


Credit: 20th Century Fox


With the movie branding itself as a comedy, we now have to judge the film on whether it makes its audience laugh. The movie scores points straight off the bat by casting Tom Hanks right after he showed the movie-watching public just how good his comedic timing is with 1987’s Dragnet. Hanks carries over his good form from that movie into this one. Pretty much all the jokes in this movie land and that sort of hit rate is always a major plus for comedy writers. Besides the jokes, the writing is pretty sharp for a family movie released around the same decade as Transformers: The Movie.


The cinematography does a good job of giving the audience simple cuts and wide shots with minimal panning and no wild movements to give them a sense of security in the film that it’s not going to be throwing any curveballs their way. This security lets the audience focus on what’s being framed by these shots and connect with the characters and story without waiting for some crazy camera shots that mind-bending films like Memento and Inception throw out left, right, and centre.


Similarly, the soundtrack provides that same sense of security with stalwart classics from the likes of Billy Idol, Kimberly and Friends, and even Huey Lewis and the News which gets them bonus points from me (seriously, any time I get to groove out to Stuck with You and Workin’ For A Livin’ puts me in a good mood).


Credit: 20th Century Fox


Unfortunately, there’s just one tiny little, itty bitty, issue looming on the horizon with this film and it’s found in the very premise of the film itself. You see, the problem with a boy changing into an adult overnight is that mentally that “adult” is still a child. Now that’s fine on its own, nothing out of sorts there until you start creating a romantic subplot with this man-child and another, fully grown adult. I’m not the first one to point this out but you have to admit that it’s very uncomfortable watching once you realise that Elizabeth Perkin’s character is pretty much dating a 12-year-old. This is only compounded by the end of the movie where after seeing the person she’s grown to love turn into a child the character says;


“Ten years… who knows. Maybe you should hold onto my number.”


Having not been in the same situation as Elizabeth Perkin’s character, I don’t know what the right thing to say would be, but it’s probably not that. Once that realisation hits you, you probably won’t be able to watch this movie again, but if you can watch it, try and focus just on Tom Hanks because he’s a goddamn treasure.


So yeah, that was my thoughts on Big. Pretty solid movie with some unsettling undertones like living in a house that’s been built on a graveyard.


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Have a great day,

-Rohan


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