' ' Cinema Romantico: Big (Flashback To The 80's, Part 2)

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Big (Flashback To The 80's, Part 2)

Josh Baskin is a 13 year old kid who, through the conventional reasons of fate, has become trapped inside a 30 year old man's body. He is riding in the back of a sleek limousine with Susan, his co-worker at a children's toy conglomerate, and she is talking, pseudo-profoundly, and he is checking out all the gee-whiz neatness of the back of this limo and he lifts himself up through the sun roof to drink in the night air and she says "Can't you see I'm vulnerable?" and he pulls himself back in and says "You should try it" and then together they lift themselves up through the sun roof and it's this spectacular moment that crystalizes the eternal struggle we face every day between youth and age.

Upon its release in 1988 Penny Marshall's poignant, high concept comedy generally earned raves both for itself and for its lead performance from then up and comer named Tom Hanks, and both, upon 22 year retrospect, were well deserved. The script was by Gary Ross (co-written with Ann Spielberg) and though Ross does not work often he is a master craftsman of grounding high concept ideas. (See Also: "Dave," "Pleasantville".) The pace is quick, presenting the audience exactly what it needs to know and not a thing more to open with the young Josh and then briskly whisks us to an adult world by having him, upon being unable to board a rollercoaster because he's not (ahem) big enough at a carnival right in front of a girl he kinda digs, proffer a wish to a suitably creepy "Zoltar" machine that he be "big." Wish granted.

He wakes up to his 30 year old face. He tries to explain to his mother who thinks this 30 year old man has kidnapped her 13 year old son. He flees. He tracks down his best friend Billy (Jared Rushton) who believes 30 year old Josh when he explains (this is what best friends are for) as they find a seedy motel in the '88 version of Times Square and determine to somehow find the nearest "Zoltar" machine so he can make a wish to once again be small.

He takes a job as a data processor at that aforementioned children's toy conglomerate run by MacMillan (Robert Loggia) with the requisite Workaholic Underlings, Susan (Elizabeth Perkins) and the, of course, dastardly Paul (John Heard), who doubles as the character suspicious of Josh from the get-go and at every turn since upon Josh's run in with MacMillan at a toy store leads to the two men playing a giant piano - a scene which time has not sullied, which still works with the utmost grace and breathlessness, which still tugs terrifically on the heartstrings - which leads to Josh earning a convenient promotion to Vice President Of Product Development which infuriates Paul and intrigues Susan.

The future two time Oscar winner for Best Actor is so frickin' convincing as a man playing child you hardly even notice (and is why when Susan arrives at Josh's place to, uh, "sleep over" you actually feel a little weirded out.) In that motel he is just like any kid who is out there in the scary World all alone for the first time. He shows up at a company party in an outrageous white tux but his wide eyed innocence is so powerful it deflects any mockery, just like any kid who unwittingly charms a group of jaded adults. And, of course, that is the primary intention of "Big", above all else.

Josh shows these stuffies in the midst of their go-go corporate takeover lifestyle how to kick back, loosen up and just, you know, experience it all. Enough with the vulnerability! Stick your head out this sun roof, why don't you?! Ah, but simultaneously Josh is afflicted with adulthood, too much work, no play, stress, ignoring the people you really love. "Big" is sweet, yes, but it's also bittersweet, especially when re-viewed through the prism of time.

When we are young we want to be old. When we are old we want to be young. Life, she's fickle that way (and a bit of a rancourous bitch). Josh's voyage across the Brooklyn Bridge and into the enclosed vastness of Manhattan is full of the larger than life wonder any 13 year old would feel. Eating ice cream sundaes for lunch, watching "The French Connection" with no one to tell you to turn it off, putting a trampoline in your house, playing with toys all day. But then there are harsh lessons to be learned. You can't wear a Giants sweatshirt every day, you gotta put on a suit. Phone calls with clients supercede pals. "Just joined the rat race. Just chasing the cheese. Racing the rats. Trying to get the cheese." So it goes. But not letting go of that childlike splendor of life is such a critical thing. And a difficult thing. We can't all just go to the "Zoltar" and ask to be small again, can we?


Andrew K. said...

I can't remember this movie at all, I'm sure I saw it but I can't remember it. I probably should seek it out since Hanks doesn't look annoying in it, and he's usually annoying me.

Nick Prigge said...

Well, it's certainly not required viewing but it's a good little movie.