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Big
1988 - PG - 104 Mins.
Director: Penny Marshall
Producer: James L. Brooks, Robert Greenhut, Juliet Taylor
Written By: Gary Ross, Anne Spielberg
Starring: Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, David Moscow, Robert Loggia, John Heard, Jon Lovitz, Mercedes Ruehl
Review by: John Ulmer
   

Do you know Beethoven's 5th?
Certain films spark imagination and warmth; they make you feel good. They are witty, intelligent and have very original and intriguing ideas ("Groundhog Day," "Memento," "It's a Wonderful Life"). Then there are some that have good premises but become tiresome after a while ("Brewster's Millions," "The Man with Two Brains," and "Delirious" to some extent). "Big" fits in the category "Good Idea, Good Premise, Good Actors, Intelligent Script, and Boring After an Hour."

Our story begins with a short teen named Josh, who dreams of girls, girls, sports, being older (so he can impress girls), and girls. So one day, at a carnival, after being shrugged off by (guess who?) a girl, a miserable and sad Josh makes a wish at a fortune telling machine, which slides out a card after your wish that says if it's been granted or not (if I remember correctly). So Josh goes home, mopes about, goes to sleep, and when he wakes up he is a thirty-something-year-old Tom Hanks (wonderful if in his part, even if he acts like a toddler more than a teenager). After his mother thinks Big Josh is a crazy loon, she chases him out of the house with a knife. (Later she thinks Josh has been kidnapped/killed after he disappears from home.)

So Josh, with the help of his friend, retreats into New York City, where he lives in a seedy apartment (great scene involving that), and, being a child, is scared witless. After a few days (or one day?) Josh, again with the help of his friend, gets a job at a toy company, only because the employer likes his goofiness so much. (Josh shows up in a cheap, appaulling suit and says he went to college at his Middle School.)

Of course, being a child, Josh soon beats bad-man John Heard in toy ideas (he comes up with wacky inventions, because he is a kid and he knows what kids really like, and he unintentionally criticizes Heard's toys). He comes up with all kinds of ideas for toys not out of greed, but because he innocently wants to create good toys for kids.

Tom Hanks plays his character well, if a bit too childish. Let's face it: Thirteen-year-old boys are old enough to know that when women say they want to "sleep over" they don't mean they want to have a sleep over party. But aside from the fact that he doesn't act like a thirteen-year-old, Hanks hits the nail on the head and gives a tremendously innocent and sweet performance. It's just too bad that the main character had to be thirteen (or fourteen), because Hanks doesn't act thirteen (or fourteen). It's still a great performance, though.

Nowadays this film would probably tag a PG-13 rating, because not only does a teenager (much less an adult) use the F-word (which was startling to hear in a Tom Hanks PG-rated movie), but there are also sexual situations involving teenagers. At one point Hanks sleeps with a business associate in her thirties (Elizabeth Perkins). Of course, this means that since Hanks' character is really a teenager, it means the teenager had sex with her--which implies some controversial subjects. In fact (spoiler ahead), when Josh (Hanks) tells the woman he is a teenager, she doesn't seem to show any surprise that she has slept with a thirteen-year-old, though it is implied they have slept together many, many times during the course of the film. (They even live together at one point.) She just seems to be surprised overall, not at anything (ahem) in particular.

Sometimes "Big" seems like it was written by teenagers thinking of cool things they would do if they happened to become adults one day. I guess this works to the film's advantage in a way, because if it was written by real adults (who have forgotten childhood yearning), the film would end up with Josh doing too many adult things and not enough childish things.

But right there I contradict myself, because I have found that at one point in the film when, in a matter of seconds, Josh puts behind his childhood and seems to grow up very suddenly--something I think was done a bit too quick--the film seems to lose its charm. If Josh is a child at heart, how could he suddenly, in a matter of minutes, gain the knowledge of a college-graduate in business economics, if he didn't even finish middle school? I think that bit is done to be symbolic--that all of us have seemed to lose our innocence at a certain age, out of expectations of doing so, or because of a ruthless world that beats down upon our childish souls--but it doesn't all fit together too well.

The film is funny, but like many films with great premises, they outstay their welcome, ultimately ending in a funny, if not memorable film. I really expected a lot from "Big" because of the big deal everyone made about it, but I would say that after a while the gags become too worn out. There's only so many things you can have a teenager do in a grown man's body, and, unfortunately, "Big," ranking in at about 90 minutes, only uses half of what it could have. It seems to search for gags in the latter half, but can't find them when they're right in front of them. Perhaps some of this is because Hanks acted too immature in his role (even though he gave a tremendous performance), or perhaps it is because the writers gave up on the film too quickly. Whatever the reason, "Big" doesn't fulfill all it could have, and ultimately ends up just funny, and nothing entirely memorable.
 
Movie Guru Rating
Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not. Average but solid.  Fans of this genre will probably enjoy it.  Others may not.
  3 out of 5 stars

 
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