Big (1988)
Big (1988)

Genre: Comedy and Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 44 min.

Release Date: June 3rd, 1988 MPAA Rating: PG

Director: Penny Marshall Actors: Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, Robert Loggia, John Heard, Jared Rushton, David Moscow, Mercedes Ruehl, Jon Lovitz




reteens Josh Baskin (David Moscow) and his dweebish best buddy Billy (Jared Rushton) are caught up in typical adolescence. They goof around, cause light mischief, play sports, distance themselves from their parents, and are just starting to notice girls. When Josh sets his sights on classmate Cynthia Benson (Kimberlee M. Davis), he struggles to measure up: literally, to the taller girl, and figuratively, attempting to attract her attention. At a carnival, he’s reminded of his age when a ride’s height restriction causes crushing embarrassment in front of Cynthia. Later that evening, he locates a fortune-telling “Zoltar Speaks” vending machine and drops in a coin. “I wish I were big.”

Unfortunately for Josh, that kiosk actually grants him his wish – transforming him the next morning into an adult (Tom Hanks). He’s in for a shock, as his 12-year-old brain (technically 13, based on his date of birth and the theatrical release date, despite celebrating a birthday mid-movie) is now in the body of a 30-something man – and he has no idea how to reverse the effect. With no clothes that fit, a mother (Mercedes Ruehl) who wouldn’t recognize him, and no allies in his new form, he rushes back to the carnival site, hoping to consult Zoltar. But the park is abandoned; the carnival has moved on. Although Josh manages to convince Billy of his predicament, the police have already begun a missing-persons investigation, forcing the mismatched duo to take a bus to New York City for the day. Billy has to return home for class, but Josh is stuck staying in a flophouse – an incredibly frightening place for a kid. “Just one night, alright.”

Complicating matters, the process to acquire a list of carnivals – the most practical solution – typically takes 6 weeks. That kind of alarming delay prompts Josh to get a job. With a stroke of luck, he finds an opening at MacMillan Toys, where some fudged facts on an application land him an entry-level data processing position.

“You’re the luckiest guy I know.” Stretching the realm of believability a bit (or a lot), Josh manages just fine for a couple of weeks, navigating the world of being an adult – with a real job – without any knowledge on the subject. Fueled by a childlike mind that fits perfectly in a toy-design setting, Josh succeeds admirably – and hysterically, working his way up the ladder in a very short period. He even contends with a workplace rival (John Heard) and a perceptive boss (Robert Loggia). From an offbeat job interview, to calling his mother while pretending to be her son’s kidnapper, to renting a new apartment (with a helluva view), to overhauling toy concepts on the spot (“That man is a killer!”), the humor and comedic timing is sensational (Jon Lovitz in a small supporting part is priceless). It may be lighthearted fantasy, but it’s surprisingly well written.

In a somewhat believable fashion, Josh’s oddness is frequently dismissed as eccentricity. Surely he knows exactly what he’s doing. Hanks brings an excess of charm to the role, behaving foolishly and innocently in ever more outrageous ways. But there’s also a genuine sweetness to his exceptional inexperience, which lands him in some funnily uncomfortable scenarios – particularly with coworker Susan (Elizabeth Perkins), who can’t figure out why her feminine wiles don’t seem to work on such a fanciful, unpredictable young man. When she pretends to be coy about seeing his apartment (“Do you mean sleep over?”), she’s shocked about his seeming disinterest in sexual advances.

Amid the daydreamy fantasy is a pleasingly sentimental love story and an undeniable realism to the actions and reactions of a child’s spontaneous integration into adulthood. Josh capitalizes on his newfound freedoms, especially where money is concerned, and navigates his sexuality in an understandably maladroit manner – which is both awkward and blithe (and somehow works, despite moments of purposeful ambiguity and the nagging notion that an adult woman is seducing a teenage boy). Eventually, he even loses sight of his real age. Ultimately, there’s an aching sense that his complex charade will come crashing down – and there’s no easy way out of the gargantuan deception. But inevitably sticky conclusion aside, “Big” is full of exquisite moments (aided by Howard Shore’s romantic melodies) – from a trampoline session to a dance on an interactive floor piano – that help the film become both continually hilarious and unforgettably unique.

– Mike Massie

  • 9/10