Sunday 3 July 2016

Movie Review: Big (1988)

A fantasy comedy and romance, Big is a delightful story of a young teenager suddenly trapped into the body of an adult. With an impeccable Tom Hanks performance and a clever jaunt into the world of grownup business and romance through the eyes of an adolescent, Big is a flawless film.

In suburban New Jersey, Josh Baskin (David Moscow) is 13 years old and going through typical awkward early teen transitions along with his best friend and next-door-neighbour Billy (Jared Rushton). After a humiliating fairground experience, Josh stumbles onto a Zoltar Speaks fortune-telling arcade machine, and wishes to be big. His wish is granted. The next day Josh (Tom Hanks) wakes up the size of a 30 year old man. His family is utterly spooked and with the carnival having moved on, Josh flees to New York City and with Billy's help starts the search for another Zoltar to undo the damage.

To survive in the big city Josh lands a data entry job at the MacMillan Toy Company. His childlike outlook on the world of toys quickly comes to the attention of Mr. MacMillan himself (Robert Loggia), who promotes him to a Vice President much to the chagrin of the oily Paul Davenport (John Heard), a ruthlessly careerist fellow VP. But Paul's girlfriend and fellow MacMillan executive Susan Lawrence (Elizabeth Perkins) takes a liking to the innocent Josh, and they start a friendship. Josh gradually adapts to the world of adulthood, but Billy will not give up on finding a Zoltar machine.

Directed by Penny Marshall, Big is a heart warming tale about transitions. Mixing perfect doses of comedy with romance and commentary about what it means to be a grown-up, the film maintains a light touch and never loses its sense of wonder and innocence. The film is a journey into the adult world through the lens of a 13 year old, and with plenty of humour Marshall takes Josh on a tour of seedy hotels, corporate boardrooms, and the mysterious jungle of tangled romantic relationships in the workplace.

Despite the many laughs, Big works its way gradually to ask fundamental questions about growing up. When is soon too soon, is the enticing responsibility of adulthood worth sacrificing a childhood, and what happens to the sense of fun and wonderment when kids grow up. Josh is exposed to everything from the horrid conditions of a flop house to cutthroat office politics and the enchantment of romance, finding the adult world a complicated yet intriguing place to navigate.

And while this is the story of Josh dealing with a sudden transformation into a strange world, the film also focuses on his role as an unintended catalyst. Just by being himself, Josh exposes Paul's connivance, reawakens Susan's passion, and allows Mr. MacMillan to reconnect with the essence of his business. The multiple character threads create a richly textured film within a deceivingly simple framework.

Marshall conjures up a couple of magical scenes as exclamation marks to Josh's adventures. At a large toy store, Josh and Mr. MacMillan play on a floor-mounted foot-operated electronic keyboard to the delight of other customers. Later, Josh convinces Susan to let loose on his in-house trampoline. Both sequences capture the simple joy of living, and accentuate the need to stay in touch with the child within, and the benefits of occasionally shaking off the crustiness that forms with age.

Tom Hanks delivers a star-making performance. He never loses the essence of Josh as a 13 year old boy grappling with the adult world, and his mannerisms, expressions and wide-eyed purity are never far from the surface. Elizabeth Perkins plays a big part in the film's success, with Susan undergoing the biggest awakening due to Josh's inadvertent influence. Perkins is convincing both as a self-obsessed corporate shark, a love interest, and finally a woman who begins to understand what is important in life. The youngsters David Moscow and Jared Rushton add immeasurably to the enjoyment factor with natural depictions of smart but also awkward 13 year old friends.

Big is an exquisite package of entertainment, big on laughs and even bigger on heart.

All Ace Black Blog Movie Reviews are here.

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