Tuesday 17 September 2019

1,001 Films: "Big" (1988)

Big is the one in which Brooklyn teenager Josh Baskin (where-are-they-now-file-resident David Moscow) suffers all manner of age- and size-related humiliations - learning the girl of his dreams has a boyfriend ("he drives"), being routinely embarrassed by his parents, and too small for a fairground ride - before an encounter with an unexplained (and unplugged) wish-granting machine turns him, overnight, into Tom Hanks. Hanks-as-Josh immediately absconds with his best friend to the big city, where he lands a job in a toy store and performs a duet on a floor-mounted keyboard with boss Robert Loggia, the bit everyone remembers from seeing it first time round. For all its much-cherished innocence, the film's screenwriters Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg actually locate their fantasy in the same world as kidnappers and pederasts (Mercedes Ruehl, as Josh's distraught mother, spends almost the entire film fearing the worst), and they're clever enough to write scenes that play two ways to two different audiences. At its cutest, this tactic is the exchange in which Hanks invites co-worker Elizabeth Perkins to sleep over, insisting he goes on top (he's talking about bunkbeds). At the opposite end of the spectrum, it's the scene where Hanks-as-Josh and his 13-year-old chum book themselves into a seedy Times Square hotel: a great adventure, if you're a kid yourself, but to more experienced eyes, the scene now looks disconcertingly as though the concierge renting the room does so in the knowledge a grown man will be spending the night with a young boy under his roof. Brrrr.

As a whole, Big is a cooler proposition than it might once have seemed, ranking alongside the same year's Scrooged (set at a TV network) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit? (set in the film business) as another of those Eighties studio productions that even if they weren't explicitly about office politics, as Wall Street, Working Girl and The Secret of My Success were, nevertheless came to reflect the era's steely corporate realities, unfolding as they did within institutions that the studio suits, closer in outlook to the grasping John Heard than the innocent Hanks, could more readily recognise. One caveat is Big's implicit special pleading on the part of creatives within that system (and there's a fair roster of talent gathered here: directed by Penny Marshall, the film was produced by James L. Brooks and Barry Sonnenfeld) for more childlike instinct with which to cut through endless marketing meetings and find other ways to connect with an audience. That it doesn't appear entirely without soul - and it's certainly less cynical than the knockoffs it spawned (Vice Versa, Like Father Like Son) - can be attributed to that, the performances, the not atypical zest in Marshall's direction, and a script that displays some insight into both what it means to be a kid all alone in a grown-up world (Hanks, sobbing in his hotel bed, eventually realises he can now stay up late to watch The French Connection) and what it is we lose as adults. At the scene of Josh's "abduction", two grown-ups can be heard speculating about the boy's predicament. "I bet he ran away," says one. "I wish I could," says the other.

Big is available on DVD through Twentieth Century Fox.

No comments:

Post a Comment