At 25: “Big”

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June 3, 2013 by billysparrow



Released: June 3, 1988

Starring: Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia, John Heard, Jared Rushton, David Moscow, Mercedes Ruehl

You’ve seen “Big.” I’ve seen “Big.” Siskel and Ebert have seen “Big.” We’ve all seen “Big.” And we’ve all liked it. In fact, I’m guessing it’s one of the few movies I’ll be writing about this year that is almost universally loved. So what can I possibly write on this, the 25th anniversary of the release of the movie in which most of America decided that, yes, we really, really like this Tom Hanks fellow?

Not much. But, hey, if I can go on for entirely too long about “Action Jackson” and “Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach,” surely I can prattle on about an actual good movie for a bit and point out some other reasons to love “Big” that you might not have considered, while also pondering some important questions that demand answers.

So let’s go into the Cavern of the Evil Wizard (aka my mind) and see what lurks inside.

First of all, though “Big” is well loved, it is perhaps not as strongly appreciated as a great New York movie. Sure, everyone (except perhaps the store’s employees in the months that followed) likes the scene where Josh (Tom Hanks) and his boss (Robert Loggia) play “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks” on the FAO Schwarz piano (and please take special note of the one large leap Loggia makes during the latter…Staten Island represent!), but there are so many other nice little New York City glimpses throughout. There’s the Canal Jean Co. bag Josh tosses aside (and seemingly leaves) before stepping on the piano, the always welcome (if slightly trite) walk through the old, seedy Times Square, the racquetball game (I couldn’t figure out which playground they’re at), and even a name check of Rick Rhoden by the young Josh (David Moscow) early in the movie, hearkening back to a time when the Yankees stunk and their fans weren’t such loudmouths all the time. Ah, the good old days.

And, of course, there’s also the restaurant where Josh and Billy (Jared Rushton, in the middle of his solid “Overboard”/”Big”/”Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” run) celebrate Josh’s 13th birthday, which looks like the coolest Italian place ever. The guy spins pizza dough at the center of the room, and then has people throw dough balls at him that he catches in his mouth. Then dudes in red jackets bring out a whole cake (!) for your birthday and sing “Happy Birthday” in operatic tones. What a place! Of course, so we can all bemoan the “old New York,” I should point out the actual restaurant, Asti (which maybe didn’t have the dough-throwing things happening), closed in 2000. There is a mini-documentary that A&E did of the place on YouTube, and it makes me wish I had gone (though I suspect all the opera singing might have gotten on my young nerves a bit, and it certainly wouldn’t have been my choice for my 13th birthday party). Here’s an excerpt if you don’t want to watch the whole thing.

I do feel obligated, however, to point out that, despite Josh and Billy’s appreciation of fine Italian dining, there is a scene not too long after where Josh and Susan (Elizabeth Perkins) are seen eating Pizza Hut, which should’ve been an immediate tip-off to Susan that she was dating a 13-year-old man in an adult’s body. That’s the only type of person who orders Pizza Hut in Manhattan. Well, that and flat-out jerks. I would also like to take this moment to apologize to my mother, for all the times I begged her to stop at the Pizza Hut in Saugerties on our way home from upstate, and to my father, for insisting that he get me Pizza Hut for lunch every time I went into work with him in Manhattan. To be fair, I was an adolescent/preteen during these times, but I do not consider that a valid excuse. I am sorry. Thank you for being good parents and making me learn things the hard way.

Anyway, back to “Big” and its awesomeness. Another overlooked aspect of “Big” is just how great John Heard is at playing Paul, the office creep. He is smarmy and obnoxious without being over the top, even when he’s wrestling Josh at the end of the aforementioned racquetball game. And his slow burn and subsequent mini-explosion after Josh innocently questions his pitch at the meeting (which features the great Kevin Meaney, who I once thought was the funniest person in the world, delivering the immortal line “So the robot turns into a bug”) has resulted in me hearing this in my head whenever someone utters the phrase “I don’t get it.”

Gotta love three-second YouTube clips, huh?

Earlier, I mentioned that I would ponder a few questions that demand answers. And so I shall now do so. A promise is a promise, as Zoltar has taught us.

First of all, when Josh starts to feel childhood pulling him back at the end of the movie and goes back to Cliffside Park (I should visit, though this person took care of that a few years back), I was slightly concerned about how things were in Cliffside Park in the late 1980s. Was it acceptable for a man in a trench coat to walk up fairly close to two children jumping around in a pile of leaves, stand in the middle of the street, and look at them wistfully? Or for that same man to get right up behind a photographer and stare at a class photo being taken outside of an elementary school? Because that seems like the sort of thing someone should be reporting. Of course, these are the days before the phrase “If you see something, say something” existed, but, still, a little inquiry of the wistful-looking stranger should have been in order, particularly in a town where a kidnapping is presumed to have taken place.

Along similar lines, there is the burning question that sits at the heart of “Big”: What the hell happened to Josh’s dad? He’s there at the carnival with the rest of the family and then, poof, he’s never seen or heard from for the rest of the movie. Josh’s mom (Mercedes Ruehl) is certainly shown in deep grief over the loss of her son in a few scenes. but Dad, well, I guess he’s made his peace with the situation. He got the milk people to put Josh’s face on the milk carton and then decided, “Well, I’ve done all I can do.” He is certainly no Liam Neeson. Or Mel Gibson for that matter, as this (language NSFW) YouTube mashup shows.

Finally, and perhaps most pressing: what the hell happens to Josh’s awesome apartment after he reverts back to 13? Who gets the trampoline? The rigged Pepsi machine? The pinball machine? Does all of that just sit there because they think that this mystery man has disappeared off the face of the earth. And I’m assuming he didn’t just buy the apartment outright (the toy business wasn’t that lucrative in 1987), so how does that mortgage work out? Can you back out of a mortgage with the excuse of “I was a 12-year-old in a man’s body when I signed this; therefore, it is not legally binding”? And who explained mortgages to him in the first place?

Also, how much therapy does Susan have to go through? I mean, she seems to come to a reluctant acceptance at the end (and, really, the creepiest part of all these body-switching movies is when romance is inserted), but, let’s face it: she kind of had sex with a 13-year-old. Oh, I know, he was in a grown-up body, but he was mentally 13. Sure, ladies, you think most of us are mentally 13 anyway, but this dude was legit mentally 13. That’s a tough one to reconcile moving forward. And on a side note, if you lose your virginity as a 13-year-old in an adult body, is it proper to say you lost your virginity at 13? Or does it not count until you’re actually in your own body? That’s a tough one, I know. Perhaps this will all be addressed in the sequel, which I’m getting a little impatient for.

So, I have pointed out some things I like about “Big,” posed some hard-driving questions, and generally celebrated the wonder that is “Big,” easily the best of the body-switching movies. Now I suppose you wish that I would stop here.

Your wish is granted.


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