Movies have only skewed toward pleasing kids and teens for the last decade or so. In the 80s and 90s we teens didn’t have any money and the cost of a trip to the cinema was prohibitive for many, but the adults went in droves. Now, with big screens, huge sound systems and comfy couches, we send the kids to the movies and kick back with our own flicks.
Forrest Gump is an excellent example of reminiscing for profit. A product aimed squarely at spoon feeding pleasant memories and proof of America’s greatness to the largest possible customer base available at the time.
We find Forrest (Tom Hanks) in a natty white suit and a job applicant’s haircut, parked on a bus stop bench nursing what appears to be his box of special things. Over the course of the next two hours Forrest will converse with many others waiting for their service in a long, fanciful sounding and often rambling tale that spans decades and the greater portion of Forrest’s extraordinary life.
Born with diminished capacity to a mother (Sally Field) who refused to see him as anything other than the same as everyone else, Forrest innocently wades out into the real world, perhaps ill prepared for the harsh realities of the political and social upheaval of the 60s and 70s, but willing to try anything.
Of course his life pans out like he’s the main actor in Billy Joel’s ‘We didn’t start the fire’ video. Forrest meets presidents plural, represents his country in battle, football and ping-pong, starts a multi million dollar business and still finds the time to inspire the likes of Elvis and John Lennon to greater things.
Strangely enough they miss the time Forrest went into space with Kevin Bacon…
Yet to Forrest these are but filler in his stories, while a feather fascinates him and warrants a place in his box of special things.
In a movie like this even the rantings of an alcoholic suicidal ex-Vietnam vet are played for laughs. Characters do indeed die through the film, with surprising frequency, usually to keep the eyes misting over in between the sequences of ‘I remember that’ history.
The film does have a punching bag though in troubled spirit Jenny (Robyn Wright Penn), a girl with a troubled past that fins Forrest as her ever amenable home base, but who seem to ever accept his warmth and protection, allowing her self destructive instincts to continually lure her back to more perilous surroundings. It is through Jenny that Forrest comes into contact with evil and loss, and the realisation that there are things wrong with the world regardless of how hard you try.
This is fairy tale stuff really, and without Tom Hanks masterful performance it would fail dismally, despite a soundtrack featuring seemingly every well known song of the era. Hanks’ wide eyed innocence and willingness to accept every challenge anchor the film and prevent it from sinking.
Forrest doesn’t see colour, age, wealth, privilege and politics, he sees everyone as equals and worthy of his time, even when they don’t see the same way, only getting upset when his mum or girl are threatened. This is the version of Big with the poles set a decade further apart. Instead of a 13 year old in a 30 year old’s body, we have an 8 year old living the life of a 35 year old man.
In reality sitting next to the mentally challenged middle aged man clutching a feather as he tells you which presidents and assorted famous people he met would likely impel you to take the next available bus – even if it weren’t your route – but for a couple pleasant hours this film is like Forrest himself, harmless, amusing, often interesting and occasionally remarkable.
Final Rating – 8 / 10. Forrest is patently toying with our emotions, but that’s what films do, and when it works like this it is simple, effective and moving.