Tuesday, August 31, 2010
In 1988 a 32-year-old Tom Hanks hit it big-- literally-- with his portrayal of Josh Baskin in the Ron Howard fantasy Big. The movie opens with a twelve-year-old Josh (David Moscow) living a fairly idyllic suburban life in New Jersey where he plays stick-ball and hangs out with his best friend Billy Kopecki (Jared Rushton). But a momentary humiliation has Josh wishing he wasn't a kid anymore and after inserting a quarter into a fortune telling machine called Zoltar Speaks, he wishes he was big.
When Josh wakes up the following morning he finds himself in the body of a grown man (Hanks). He naively rushes up to his mother and tries to explain what happened, but like anyone logically would, she freaks out and assumes her son has been kidnapped. Fortunately Josh is able to convince his best friend Billy that he is who he says he is and the boys try to come up with a plan to return Josh to normal.
After renting a cheap apartment in New York Josh is able to get a job in data entry at MacMillan Toys. It isn't long before Josh's adolescent enthusiasm brings him to the attention of the owner of the company (Robert Loggia). In an especially cute scene the two play chopsticks on the life-sized FAO Schwartz piano keyboard the movie made famous and Josh gets the dream job of every twelve-year-old kid in the world-- toy tester.
Unwittingly thrust into the world of corporate back-stabbing without the years of life-experience of most adults, Josh still manages to charm his way through the job with the forthrightness that is characteristic of his real age. His rapid success at the job catches the eye of a ladder-climbing co-worker named Susan (Elizabeth Perkins). But like his boss, Susan is soon taken with Josh and begins to fall in love with Josh and his unaffected way of looking at things. Josh soon finds himself caught between two worlds as he still hangs out with Billy while they try to track down a Zoltar game to undo the wish and trying to keep up with the adult obligations that come with a job, a rent payment and a girlfriend.
"Big" is one of those movies that never hits a false note or feels too long. I hadn't watched the movie in years, but found myself immediately taken again with its easy charm. Tom Hanks was already the kind of actor that inhabits the character he portrays and you never feel like you're watching him act like a twelve-year-old boy in an adult's body-- you see the boy trying to figure out how to navigate a world he isn't ready for. The performances throughout the film are first rate, with "Big" being the breakout role for Elizabeth Perkins-- best known these days as Celia in "Weeds"-- who makes a wonderful transformation from jaded to vulnerable. But "Big" is rightfully Hanks' movie and it's a pleasure to go back and remember why audiences were so taken with him.
I admit it's kind of fun to enter into the time warp of an 80's movie and see the two-dimensional computer animation that kids today would find positively laughable, but those moments are rare and never overly date the film or take you too far out of the story (my ten-year-old daughter thought it was funny to see the technology we limped along with in those days). In the end "Big" proves that it really is the story that counts. The fantasy elements are there, but there are no big set pieces, action sequences or special effects. The whimsy comes from remembering a simpler time and the excruciating awkwardness of making the transition from child to adult. If you haven't seen it-- you should. And if you haven't watched it in awhile-- it's a great story to revisit.