My Favorite Movies – Big (1988)

24 Apr

By Tanner Smith

I wish I could be as gleeful and excited as Josh Baskin when he got his first paycheck at his first job–“187 dollars?!!” Actually, I was once, back when I had my first job–it felt good to earn an honest pay for once.

“Big” has been one of my favorites since childhood–even when I didn’t get a lot of the jokes as a kid, I was still with the movie because it was so likable and appealing and wanted to treat me like an adult. (I think the target audience was both children and grownups–the PG-rating standards were pushed a little bit back when it was made and released.)

I first drawn to it at a young age (I think I was 8 or 9, I forget…) because like most kids, I wished I was bigger or grown up. As I got older, the comedy spoke to me more, so I kept coming back to it for that. Not too long after, I felt like I “got” it, like I knew what it was trying to tell me all that time–and I loved it even more.

The film is about a 12-year-old New Jersey boy named Josh (David Moscow) who is going through the normal average pre-pubescent stages–he’s being nagged by his parents to do his chores, he wants the attention of the pretty girl, he’s too short for the best carnival rides, all of that stuff. He comes across a fortune-telling machine that asks him to make a wish…so he wishes he was “big” (or “grown up”). (He doesn’t realize until after he’s made the wish that the active machine was unplugged the whole time. Spoooooky…)

The following morning, Josh is surprised to find that his wish has come true–he’s now taller, bigger, and played by Tom Hanks. His own mother doesn’t recognize him, but he’s able to convince his best friend Billy (Jared Rushton) of the situation. So, Billy helps Josh lay low in New York City until he can find the machine and wish himself back to being a kid again. But meanwhile, he needs work–so he gets a job working at a toy company. (He gets the job too easily, but remember it’s a fantasy.) He gets the attention of the boss, MacMillan (Robert Loggia), because rather than analyze target demographic surveys and processed datas and all that junk, Josh tests toys the old-fashioned way: he plays with them.

The best scene in the movie, I think everyone who’s seen it agrees, is the one where Josh and MacMillan meet at a toy store and play the carpet piano. Josh starts playing the scales and “Heart and Soul,” and it’s right there in a quiet little moment where MacMillan is reminded of his own childhood and smiles at the memory, leading to a piano duet between the two–first “Heart and Soul” and then “Chopsticks.” Everything about this scene is gold–it’s beautifully shot and choreographed, it’s funny, and it’s charming. I love it.

Anyway, Josh gets a promotion at work and blows everyone away because no one understands toys better than he does–he knows what kids want! (Go figure.) He gets a nicer apartment, he makes a decent living (ah screw it, it’s more than decent–I WANT THAT APARTMENT!), he upholds new responsibilities, and he even gets a girlfriend in a pretty coworker named Susan (Elizabeth Perkins), who has somewhat of a reputation amongst her male coworkers. This strange, interesting man interests her, so she tries to pick him up…

“I WANT to spend the night with you,” she tells him. He doesn’t quite get it: “Do you mean sleep over?” “Well…yeah.” “Well OK…but I get to be on top!” That is one of the jokes that went WAY over my head as a kid!

The more time Susan spends with Josh, the more she loosens up. She doesn’t carry herself as much as the movie continues. Josh has the same effect for other people, including MacMillan, who gets sick and tired of all the business talk around the office. Josh even has that effect on the uptight a-hole executive Paul (John Heard)–when Paul gets ticked off at Josh, he becomes a schoolyard bully (which he probably was as a kid).

It’s an interesting theme, but even more fascinating is Josh’s development as he continues further into the adult world (and his friend Billy has to remind him who he really is). When the time comes where he’s offered the opportunity to go back and live his teenage years before handling all the adult responsibilities…will he take it?

Just writing about “Big,” I’m reminded of the things I love about it. There’s a wonderful delicate balance of comedy and drama. Tom Hanks is phenomenal as the literal man-child. The supporting cast, especially Robert Loggia as the boss and Jared Rushton as the only one in on the secret, is excellent. The final act is emotionally charged. The directing by Penny Marshall is tender-hearted and cheerful. And so on.

And arguably most importantly, it’s THE SCREENPLAY–the only way this script by Gary Ross (who went on to write and direct “Pleasantville,” another favorite of mine) and Anne Spielberg (sister of Steven) could have been ruined is if the original casting choice (Robert De Niro) was put in the lead role. (I love De Niro, but I could never see him as Josh.)

I love this movie. I always have and I always will.

Last thing I’ll say about “Big” is I usually stick with the original cut. The extended version is fine (though I would’ve liked to see that legendary alternate ending), but I think they made the right editing choices for the theatrical cut. If you’re a “‘Big’ completist,” it’s worth checking out–but I don’t think you’ll love it as much as the version you’ve come to know and love at that point.

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