Big (1988)

(On Cable TV, September 2017) Given its enduring popularity, it seems almost amazing that I’d never seen Big until now. But it’s never too late to see what the fuss is about, and so a first viewing shows that its reputation is well deserved. The story of a boy who wishes he was big and then seeing his wish being fulfilled, Big is, at times, a celebration of boyhood, a fish-out-of-water comedy, a wistful meditation on the responsibilities of adulthood and an unusual romance. It works as a heartwarming comedy, even though some of the implications of “age of consent” are too uncomfortable to contemplate for long. There have been many body-switching movies in which kids have to deal with adulthood, but Big remains a reference because it does try something interesting with the concept—allow the boy hero to actually grow up along the way, and seriously have to choose between staying an adult or returning to childhood. I suspect that I will best appreciate Big the second time around—even though it’s recognizably a comedy from its first few moments, it’s not too clear how bad the experience will be for our protagonist the first time, and the movie does get better once we realize that nothing terrible will happens to him. The film’s biggest asset, of course, is Tom Hanks: His wide-eyed performance as an early teen in a man’s body is filled with well-observed mannerisms, and his latter transformation into something closer to a responsible adult is one of the film’s biggest pleasures. Robert Loggia also has a good turn as an unusually sympathetic boss—the iconic floor-piano sequence still works remarkably well due to a sense of fun shared between those two actors. While Big does have a few unpleasant undertones, it does deal seriously enough with its themes to remain current. Plus, you get top-form Tom Hanks at the beginning of his stardom.

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