Tom Hanks won raves for his Oscar nominated performance (1988, Best Actor) as a twelve-year-old boy trapped inside a thirty year old body in director Penny Marshall’s winning comedy.
At a carnival, young Josh Baskin (Hanks) wishes he was big – only to awake the next morning and discover he is! With the help of his friend Billy (Jared Rushton), Josh lands a job at a toy company. There, his inner wisdom enables him to successfully predict what children want to buy, making the awestruck, naïve Josh irresistible to a beautiful ladder-climbing colleague (Elizabeth Perkins). But the more he experiences being an adult, the more Josh longs for the simple joys of childhood.
Whoah… it had been a loooooong time since I last saw this film (I can’t say that, when I think of watching a nice light comedy, I think of ‘Big’). It sure was a nice trip down memory lane.
Honestly, for a film that’s over 20 years-old, it holds up very well; while it looks like an ’80s film, it doesn’t feel cheesy or dated like many of them tend to now. The tone and sensibilities of the film are universal and timeless, so it’s a film that plays as well now as it did then. The only people who would object to it are those who find the sight of ’80s fashion and décor to be an eyesore.
The story doesn’t hold up to critical scrutiny, however, in that many of the situations are contrived and unrealistic – but it is a fantasy so some suspension of disbelief makes sense in this case. It also takes short cuts in the character development department, giving us glimpses into the people populating this story, but no real substance. Of course, it must be noted that the film would have had to be an hour longer, otherwise – so the film was concise yet still retained the essentials.
To be frank, ‘Big’ is so good-natured that it’s easy to just let it do its thing without reproach; being critical of it would be like nit-picking the ‘Toy Story’ films – it would be needlessly harsh, unwarranted. It would be like focusing on the weak points of a B+ report card and berating a child for not doing better when s/he went to school and did his/her homework with unbounded enthusiasm – who’d want to?
Speaking of enthusiasm, they couldn’t possibly have cast the lead in this film any better: Tom Hanks is perfectly suited for the role; he embodies the 13-year so well. What works here are the very same qualities that would serve him so well in ‘Forrest Gump’: he’s affable, disarming, and innocent-like. I can’t even imagine anyone else who would be better for this role – then or now. I’m sure someone else could pull it off, but Hanks essentially owns the role.
In fact, he so embodies the character that it’s a film that simply couldn’t be remade without the original incarnation towering above the new one (of course, the same would be said about Peter Sellers’ Inspector Clouseau, and yet…). I guess I’d argue that it’s a film that simply doesn’t need to be remade – it’s pretty much pitch-perfect and it would be impossible to improve on the formula (again, there are plenty of examples where attempts to capture lightning in a bottle twice were made, as in ‘Miracle on 34th Street’, but stupidity knows no bounds).
‘Big’ is not exactly what one would imagine box-office gold to look like and it may not look like an award-winner, but it has all the magic that many other films would bend over backwards to try to contrive… and fail at. It makes it look so effortless and I think that’s what makes it so enjoyable; you can easily get lost in it for 100 mins and enjoy the fantasy. It may not have grand aspirations, but ‘Big’ is big fun with a big heart.