29. Big, directed by Penny Marshall

29. Big, directed by Penny Marshall

Apparently, Acting Like a Kid Gets You Places

By Rose Marel


If you’ve seen Freaky Friday, you’ll be familiar with the trope of a small child getting trapped in a big body. For Josh, it’s a dream come true, or more like a wish come true when he pays a couple of coins in exchange for an actual wish via a genuinely freaky carnival fortune-telling machine. What does he want? To be big, which leads him to waking up as a thirty-something year old man-boy while maintaining his own underdeveloped child-mind. Essentially, Josh is jammed into the unusual scenario of overcoming all of those physical discomforts associated with puberty and forced into the adult world. But is the adult-world really an adult-world if it’s regarded through a non-adult filter?

It’s an odd film in the way that you wait for all the usual obstacles to appear, and then continue to wait, and wait, and wait. Not that this is a negative at all. Refreshingly, it seems to eschew the strict structural formula, and takes us instead on a journey of discovery and optimism. Perhaps this aligns us more fully with the innocent and hopeful outlook of a naive thirteen-year-old boy – someone who is untouched by the cynicism of the world, and remains buoyant, having skipped over the responsibilities and disappointments that can grind us down on the road of adulthood. This perspective proves beneficial when moving into the workforce, as he is disentangled from and unconcerned with the corporate ambitions of those who now surround him. He seems to live in the adult world as if it is a game to be played which, ultimately, it is. Or, at least, it could be if we chose to regard it as such.

I must admit, while crucial to the plot, the romantic thread of the story is slightly uncomfortable. Regardless of his grown-up exterior, technically he is a thirteen-year-old boy! Any sexual relationship with an adult seems conceptually sullied by notes of paedophilia, and for me it undermined any efforts of a sweet romance. I wanted to get past it, but I really couldn’t help feeling squeamish.

Unsurprisingly, Tom Hanks is superb in this. He’s funny, he’s honest and he physicalizes a young boy so incredibly well it’s almost worrying. From the distracted listening contrasted by the sudden intensity of a child, to the awkward movements and tactile habits, he completely nails the movie’s concept. Without Hanks selling this, the movie would have been entirely different. It could have flopped big time (…sorry). Hanks’ natural essence is lovable and charming, but when amped up, it reads fantastically well as an adult-boy.

Director Penny Marshall and star Tom Hanks, on the set of Big.

Penny Marshall became the first female director of a movie grossing over $100 million at the box office with Big. She steers it into a realm of lightness and fun, which no doubt contributed greatly to the film’s success. It pokes fun at maturity and ambition, while reminding us of the importance to not take everything so damn seriously! Somewhere between the ages of thirteen and thirty we seem to lose the imaginative freedom of our youth, and Big highlights why it’s important to remain in touch with it. Why not let go of our own notions of limitation or the implications of adulthood and instead rejoice in life’s surprises?

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