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Theme Tuesday - Penny Marshall - Big

In honor of one of the few American female filmmakers that regular people could name, I will be watching all of the works of Penny Marshall, who passed away in late 2018, for January 2019.​

I think to judge this film fairly, one needs to realize that this is a pure fantasy because otherwise there are so many problems of the icky and logical kind. For example, the questionability of sleeping with a man who has the mentality of a twelve-year-old boy. Or the fact that Tom Hanks’ Josh gets a job at a major company without any proper legal documents or references. The events in this movie do not hold up under scrutiny, and they were never meant to. It is ultimately a wish-fulfillment comedy. The most entertaining part of this movie is seeing Tom Hanks so lovingly embody a child in an adult situation. Apparently, Penny Marshall would first stage the scene with the young Josh (David Moscow) and Hanks would basically imitate what the young actor did, a practice he famously repeated for Forrest Gump with his younger counterpart for that movie. Of course, in true parable fashion, Josh realizes that by missing his childhood, he has missed out on some valuable memories and that the grownup world is not something that you have to rush after.

While this is a predictable arc, I think Marshall and writers Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg make it more poignant than it might have been in a lesser movie. The best performance other than Hanks’ is Elizabeth Perkins’ as Susan, Josh’s colleague and eventual love interest. I think it’s in this relationship that we can see a woman’s point of view play a crucial role. Perkins is so good as playing an uptight professional type with the right note of vulnerability, and I can just see Marshall working together with Perkins to create this performance, something a lot of male directors wouldn't have done. The fact that her relationship with Josh is essentially her becoming softer and less cynical is so well-done that I want to see this movie from her perspective. Her last big moment when she gently refuses Josh’s invitation to become young again hit me like a truck this time. Considering that she would get to fix all the mistakes she had made in her youth and add years to her life, her decision may seem foolish, but it’s the wisest decision in this movie, since so many people would not have seen the downside of such an offer.

I feel Marshall’s best quality as a director is the ability to attract great talent and get great performances out of them, though I do not see this movie working with Robert DeNiro as originally intended. She deliberately cast experienced, more respected actors such as Robert Loggia (who is so good in a fairly small role) and John Heard so that Hanks would tone down the glibness that had characterized his earlier roles. I think it is because of Marshall that Hanks gives a performance that is not a caricature, but an actual well-considered, complex performance. I had been pretty indifferent, if amused, at this movie on first watch, but I think it has a lot to say about the value of childhood and offers optimism in the face of rank cynicism.

 

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