No 'Big' Deal

Insanely bored and feeling quite anti-social, we somehow ended up in front of the TV catching a recent showing of the 1988 Tom Hanks vehicle Big. (Don't ask.) For those of you that may have never seen the flick, Hanks plays Josh, a suburban 13 year-old who is granted his wish to be an adult by a carnival machine. He ends up in NYC working as a tester for a toy company, hilarity ensues (sort of), before he eventually realizes he's missing out on his youth and--with the aid of his best friend, who's in on his secret--locates the aforementioned wish-granting/fortune telling machine so that he can return to his old life. The end.

Now, we hadn't seen Big since it was first released 20 years ago, and didn't really care for it then. But this recent viewing left us shocked by how uncomfortable it is to watch. According to WikiPedia, it "was received with almost unanimous critical acclaim, and is considered by many critics the gold standard of movies in which a child is trapped in an adult's body. Many critics praised Tom Hanks for his 'believable' and 'adorable' performance." (Among them, Siskel & Ebert, who gave it their trademark "two thumbs up.") We beg to differ.

Granted, calling it "
the gold standard of movies in which a child is trapped in an adult's body" is surely damning it with faint praise, albeit unintentionally. But the major problem here is Hanks, who plays Josh as a 6-year old, and not the teenager his character is supposed to be. (Then 14-year old Jared Rushton, who plays Josh's best friend Billy, also goes the 1st grader route in his role. Of course, this is probably how the script was written.) This--and the unconvincing manner in which the adults interacting with this man-child conduct themselves--makes the suspension of disbelief inherent in taking in the movie even harder to embrace.

Sure, one can make the argument that 13-year olds from 20 years ago may not have been as 'with it' as their current counterparts. Except that the high school freshmen depicted 4 years prior in Sixteen Candles, for example, put that theory to bed immediately: Anthony Michael Hall's Farmer Ted and his co-horts may have been inexperienced, insecure dorks, but they carried on like kids their age and would surely be apalled by any of their contemporaries acting in the excrutiatingly infantile way Josh and Billy do in Big. (For one, Josh has no idea the clear insinuations made by Susan--an adult co-worker played by Elizabeth Perkins--when she comes home with him after an office party are sexual advances. Any chance Farmer Ted or his buddies wouldn't get it? Exactly.)

This is a movie made by people who had very-little to no idea what it is to be a teenager. Or maybe they were going for a faux 1950s vibe. In any event, ugh.