I have always been short my entire life. When I was twelve, my doctor told me I would probably “shoot up” in college. I could hardly wait. I was tired of not being able to be tall enough for certain rides at amusement parks or not chosen by my classmates in certain sports. I always felt less than and was often picked on by my peers. All I wanted was to grow. I thought my problems would disappear if I grew a few more inches. I wanted to be “big.” I dreamed about being taller. I secretly wished for the universe to swoop in and overnight change my stature. To my dismay, it never happened. I had to learn to accept my shortness and embrace it. I decided in my late teens to flip my paradigm and try to see things differently. Whenever I looked at others taller than me, I believed I was looking at their eye level. I mentally changed and created my new mantra…I have a tall soul. I began to view my world from another perspective and finally was at peace with my physicality. Some people may have to learn this difficult lesson another way. And it can be hard and harsh, as it was for Josh, portrayed by Tom Hanks in the goofy, hilarious movie BIG.
BIG premiered in 1988. It was directed by Penny Marshall and was co-written by Anne Spielberg, sister to Steven. He was offered the directing position, but he didn’t want to take away the limelight from his sister. BIG was the first film directed by a woman to gross over a hundred million dollars. It is 42 on America’s Institute of Film’s top 100 Comedy for 2000. The part of Josh was offered to many other actors besides Tom Hanks since he was unavailable at the time. Robin Williams, Harrison Ford, Jeff Bridges, and Bill Murray were just a few who also said no. Thank goodness Tom’s schedule cleared up, and he was able to accept the role.
The plot line is fresh even after 24 years. A young boy, almost 13 years old, is angry about being small for his age. He and his family are at an amusement park. He is alone for a moment and comes upon Zoltar, a magical machine that grants you a wish for only a quarter. Josh asks to be big. In return, he receives this cryptic card that says his wish “has been granted.” Josh believes he was fooled because the electric cord was not plugged into the wall. Lo and behold, the next morning, when he wakes up, Josh is thirty years old and BIG! His mom does not believe it is him and runs him out of the house. With the help of his wise best friend, Billy (Jared Rushton), Josh begins an epic adventure of living the life of an adult in a preteen body. It will take six weeks to find out where the mysterious Zoltar will be next. In that short time, Josh learns about the responsibilities of working, living on his own, and even having a girlfriend. He was a very busy boy and, obviously, a fast learner. It is an amazing story of discovering who you are and what matters most in life.
Tom Hanks learned how to become a thirteen-year-old by watching his younger actor self-play each scene first. Then he would apply his interpretation. It was a brilliant technique. Tom was able to capture the zaniness and silliness of a young boy. It was hysterical to watch him as a grownup attend a black-tie event for his job, taste bite-sized corn on the cob, (totally improvised) double dipping chips, and spitting out beluga cheese. His white-tail tux was a hoot as well. Watching a grown man play with toys as a child was priceless. String cheese booger fights, bunkbed sleepovers, and trampoline jumping was played perfectly. My favorite line was Josh handing Susan (Elizabeth Perkins) a “glow-in-the-dark compass ring, so you don’t get lost.” But the best childlike moment was performed by Tom and Robert Loggia, his boss, as they pounded out the tune to HEART AND SOUL and CHOPSTICKS on a ginormous keyboard using only their feet and legs. Every time I watch this scene, I am mesmerized by their talent right down to their toes.
It was such a kick to see BIG Josh and little Billy together. They were a match made in heaven. This film asks viewers to suspend their disbelief that a man with a young boy’s brain could live in Manhattan and thrive. It begs the question of when is it too much for those small shoulders? When is it time to say you have had enough and want to go home to be a kid again? The montage of children and teenagers “playing” was wonderful without a single word spoken, everything important and necessary was silently spoken.
The cinematography was excellent as well. Penny Marshall did a delightful job reining in the performances to maintain the pocket of believability. NYC took on a life of its own, and the closing scenes were one of my faves. A brief second put the entire movie into perspective. “there are a million reasons for me to go home but only one reason for me to stay.” Oh, my heartstrings.
BIG is a fantasy/comedy film. It allows audiences to speculate about what it means to grow up. It is filled with bittersweet moments of boy friendships, a mother’s love for her child, and falling in love for the first time. Tom Hanks makes BIG work. He is simply marvelous in every scene. His innocence ignites our imaginations. He makes BIG Josh authentic, the kind of kid any kid would be proud to hang out with and any mom quell with pride. BIG is a classic the entire family can enjoy together while impressing upon the children…never grow up too fast.
BIG is available to stream on HBO MAX.