Movie #84: Big (1988)

Director: Penny Marshall

Starring: Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia, John Heard, Jared Rushton, David Moscow, Jon Lovitz, and Mercedes Ruehl

Academy Award Nominations (1989):

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Tom Hanks

Best Writing, Original Screenplay: Gary Ross, Anne Spielberg

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12-year-old Josh (Moscow) is beginning that awkward teen stage where so much changes so fast.  Unable to ride a ride at the local carnival, and facing embarrassment in front of a young girl he likes, Josh comes across a Zoltar Speaks game and wishes he was big.  The next morning he awakens as a 30-year-old man (Hanks).  With help from his best friend Billy (Rushton), Josh runs away to New York City and gets a job at MacMillan Toys.  He quickly rises to a Vice-President position, much to the delight of Susan (Perkins) and the dismay of Paul (Heard).

This was one of Penny Marshall’s first films to direct, and I must say she created a lovely gem of a movie with Big.  This movie is fun, enjoyable, and something that can appeal to a wide range of audiences.  I’ve seen this film in bits and pieces mostly, and seeing it from start to finish, deleted scenes included, was a good experience.  There’s a good balance of comedy without it being too over-the-top.  Marshall and the writing staff don’t treat the audiences like idiots, which is a good thing.

One of Marshall’s strengths as a director is how she got Tom Hanks to give authentic mannerisms and reactions that a 12-year-old boy would have in the situations that Josh was placed in.  “He was helped in this by Penny Marshall who had young Moscow play each of big Josh’s scenes first, so that Hanks could absorb the reactions and body-language of a 12-year-old.”

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This film has a great supporting cast.  Elizabeth Perkins is charming, even though the thought of her falling for a 12-year-old is a little creepy.  John Heard does a great job as a man you just love to hate.  He turns most childish as the movie progresses, but you can expect that from a character like Paul.  Jon Lovitz provides just enough comic relief.

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I also enjoyed Robert Loggia’s performance in Big.  It’s enjoyable to see him in a more light-hearted role since I’m used to seeing him play some military hard-ass type character.  His scene on the piano with Hanks is just classic.  One of the deleted scenes in the movie is a conversation between MacMillan and Josh about how and who to market toys to.  MacMillan points out that all a 13-year-old boy wants is a 13-year-old girl, and that’s one of the main reasons their primary demographic ends at 12.  It’s adding that kind of insight, though it’s something most of us already know, that humanizes and brings a character like Josh down to earth and puts things into perspective.

I feel like a broken record every time I say it, but a movie like this only works with a strong lead character.  Tom Hanks delivers.  Though he’d had a number of great acting roles, Big seems like a turning point where Hanks went from a good to a great actor.  His balance of being a 12-year-old boy trying to fit into the adult world takes pure talent, and throughout the film it’s easy to believe Hanks is playing as a 12-year-old.

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Big is an entertaining flick that many ages can enjoy.  There are a few vulgarities that would cause caution to showing to a young kid, but otherwise this movie has a broad appeal.  A true-to-character performance from Tom Hanks makes this film great, earned him his first Oscar nomination, and established him as a versatile, balanced actor.  I will enjoy this film whenever I see it, and I’d definitely recommend it.

My Rating: 4.5/5 stars.

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