Sometimes, For Your Consideration offers slightly obscure or foreign fare designed to broaden your horizons. But every once in a while, we get so excited when a true classic is added to Netflix’s Instant service that we can’t help gushing about it. This week, just such a comedy classic has arrived on streaming, and we hope you’ll consider revisiting Big.
Who Made It: Big was directed by Penny Marshall. For years Penny was a television star, with frequent guest appearances on shows like The Odd Couple and Happy Days. Eventually her recurring Happy Days guest spots lead to a spin off show entitled Laverne & Shirley. The show was a smash hit. During the run of the show, Marshall caught the directing bug, helming four of the series’ episodes. Big was her sophomore effort, preceeded by Jumping Jack Flash in 1986. She also directed A League of Their Own, Awakenings, The Preacher’s Wife, and Riding in Cars with Boys.
Who’s In It: Big stars Tom Hanks in one of his most memorable performances. The mid-to-late ’80s were, in my opinion, the height of Hanks’ career. Not to say he has delivered some amazing performances in some phenomenal films since then, but there was something about his run from 1984-1990 that consistently hooks me and plays directly to my funny bone; Splash, Bachelor Party, Big, and The ‘burbs just to name a few.
What’s It About: Big is the story of Josh Baskin, a typical American kid with one all-consuming dream: To no longer be a typical American kid. Josh desperately wants to be grown up and live his own life; making his own decisions, and experiencing the freedom of adulthood. One night, while at a carnival, Josh relays this wish to a mystical fortune-telling machine called Zoltar. The next day, magically, he wakes up fully-grown. His mother, not recognizing him, runs him out of the house. Now Josh, still possessing of his adolescent mind and spirit, must try and survive in an adult world; forced to get a job and make a life for himself.
Why You Should Watch It:
Big is a classic ’80s comedy and harbors so much appeal for a wide and diverse audience because we can all relate to Josh. He is the embodiment of the “grass is greener” perception of our various stages of life.
As kids, all we wanted to do was grow up and be independent. We yearned for the freedom to eat junk food for dinner and make money that we could spend on trampolines and arcade games. Once we reach adulthood, we begin to regressively long for the sweet innocence of youth unencumbered by responsibility and the harsh truths of the world. Josh’s supernatural predicament allows him to experience both sides of the coin within the span of a few weeks, while also enabling him to confront all of the adult supporting cast members with a tangible representation of that lost innocence (made all the more poignant by his outward, grown up appearance).
I think it’s in this way that Hank’s performance is truly remarkable. He is tasked with communicating adolescence within the guise of adulthood. He could have simply grasped at petulant or irritatingly immature tropes, but Hanks’ portrayal of Josh is thankfully far more disciplined. He recognized that if Josh, as a kid, had the capacity to yearn for the independence of adulthood, than he at least mentally fancies himself to be mature. Therefore, as the suddenly adult version of Josh, Hanks walks a fine line between childish inclinations (like playing laser tag in the middle of a toy store) and the confidence that he is equipped for manhood (like dressing himself for parties even if the suit he selects is out of fashion by several years). He is trying so hard to prove to everyone, including himself, that he is a grown up; the very essence of adolescence.
Big is a heartfelt, character-driven comedy with a host of memorable scenes that have become canon for the genre. The most seminal scene of course is the one in which he plays the floor length keyboard in the toy store. It’s not just the novelty of Hanks playing “Chopsticks” with his feet, but the fact that his uncorrupted enthusiasm entices his elderly boss, played by Robert Loggia, to join in. I still think my favorite scene however is the one in which Josh, having just rented an apartment in the worst part of town with what little money he could scrounge together after running away from home, is overwhelmed by the frightening sounds of a rough neighborhood. His quiet sobbing perfectly captures the fear and vulnerability felt whenever any of us first strike out on our own, no matter what age we may happen to be when that occurs.