Big [retro review]

“I wish I were big.”

The Scoop: 1988 PG, directed by Penny Marshall and starring Tom Hanks, Elizabeth Perkins, and Jon Lovitz

Tagline: Have you ever had a really big secret?

Summary Capsule: Boy wishes to be grownup. Two hours later, grownup wishes to be boy.

Justin’s Rating: I wish to be… hairy. *ding!*

Justin’s Review: I miss being a kid. I don’t mean the years where playing a xylophone in kindergarten is considered Musical Education, and I’m not referring to that dank, zit-spewn era known as adolescence either. I’m talking about those precious few years where you’re old enough to have an imagaination that works (but not too old where it’s been beaten out of you), where you have the best of friends (but not the type who are hinged on popularity and status), and where every day is a wonderful small adventure in and of itself. I remember when I’d spend most of my summer playing soldier across the neighborhood with my pals… I remember performing a funeral for a dead bird we found one day… I remember when we’d spend snow days completely outside, building snow forts… I remember when candy was the only important currency you could have. Yeah, those were great times, times before innocence gave way to responsibility and too much knowledge, times where girls were as mysterious as they were scary (wait a minute this is still true).

But the Catch-22 of those years, as you well know, is that you simply canNOT wait to grow up. Grownups had all the freedom, as far as you could tell. They bossed you around, they got to go anywhere they liked, they didn’t have bedtimes, they could eat candy for every single meal if they so desired. So unfortunately, as a kid, I couldn’t wait to get bigger; and as an adult, I would love to go back, if only for a day.

Big, Tom Hanks’s greatest comedic triumph, works because it sucks you back to those times. It’s a truism that most grownups don’t feel grownup on the inside. We act the way we do because it’s what’s required of us, but most times we’re still puzzled, immature, and generally winging life as it comes our way. I’m sure the President of the U.S. spends part of his day comparing the American armed forces to those green plastic army men he had as a kid. I’m sure there’s a few court judges that hide a Gameboy in their laps. I’m sure that basically all of mankind who are married to womankind spend a lot of time gawking at them and wondering, “What did I do to deserve this?” We might as well be out playing at recess our whole lives… in fact, this is what I hope heaven will be like.

Josh, a lovable scamp, is downtrodden because he’s short and discriminated against by grownups. So fueled by intense loathing, he injects his body with a serum that causes hideous mutations and super powers that can easily destroy… um… well, not exactly. His sorrow takes him to a creepy automatic fortune telling booth, where he wishes to be Big, and also to have his enemies go prematurely bald. In a fairy tale fashion, his wish is granted, and Josh becomes Tom Hanks, a respected Oscar winner who middle aged women swoon over.

As a pseudo-adult, Josh finds himself launched into a scary world, full of income tax and prostate exams. It’s rather endearing to watch how he takes it all in; first, he’s hurt and betrayed by having to leave the world that he knows, but soon he is having the time of his life. His “progressive” thinking at a toy company due to his child-like insight makes him all the rage. Soon enough, he’s responsible for the Garbage Pail Kids, Rainbow Brite, Micro Machines, Tomagachi, and Pokemon.

Hanks pulls off some of his best acting, making you honestly forget that he’s an actor playing a man-child. Big is full of classic moments, such as the floor piano sequence, that it’s forever installed in the lexicon of great flicks. And maybe because of this, most people don’t choose to see it any more. The eighties was responsible for a lot of the body/role-swapping genre (including Freaky Friday and Trading Places), but never nailed it better than here.

Josh eventually has a romance with a coworker, which is simultaneously endearing and revolting. I mean, when you look at it one way, it’s every teen guy’s fantasy. When you look at it another way, well, it’s just plain illegal. Sure, technically he’s a grownup and all that, but the scene you didn’t see is when his adult girlfriend is retching after discovering that she’s been shacking up with a person who regularly wet the bed, like, three years ago.

I doubt you haven’t seen Big, but I doubt you’ve seen it recently either. Fully deserving of the mountains of praise its garnered, this is a rental that maybe you and a fellow kid can dust off for a stroll down nose-pickin’ lane. My only quibble (Quibble ‘n Bits) with this film is that adult Josh goes from being childlike to heartless over the space of, seriously, one scene. It’s so jarringly quick that it makes it slightly unbelievable how Josh has settled into this new world (remember, sex does more than kill, it robs your personality as well). But that’s just a minor thing.

And yes, ladies, I’m sure there’s some “hidden” message in here about real men being indistinguishable from boys-trapped-in-men’s-bodies, but you can just leave that cruel hate mongering at home. It makes us cry.

In the next scene, they go to the hospital for shin splints.


  • Ooh, old computer adventure games!
  • Look how Josh sits on his computer chair first day in the office
  • Jon Lovitz!
  • hehe… getting your paycheck all in ones
  • Billy Idol on MTV
  • The piano playing scene… a precursor to Dance Dance Revolution
  • Check out the lady’s reaction the first time she enters Josh’s apartment to see the ultimate kid paradise
  • To give star Tom Hanks an idea of how a 12 year-old would behave, director Penny Marshall filmed each “grown-up” scene with David Moscow (Young Josh) playing Hanks’s part. Hanks then copied Moscow’s behavior.
  • Penny Marshall became the first female director to ever direct a movie that grossed more than $100 million at the box office with this movie.

Groovy Quotes

Josh: I wish I were big.

Billy: I’m your best friend. What’s more important than that, huh?

Susan: I want to spend the night with you.
Josh: Do you mean sleep over?
Susan: Well… yeah!
Josh: Well, okay… but I get to be on top!

Josh: I’m much better at video hockey.
Paul: That’s not a sport.
Josh: It requires hand and eye coordination.
Paul: It’s not a sport if you don’t sweat.
Josh: What about golf? It’s a sport and you don’t sweat.
Paul: It’s not a sport if you let a machine do all the work.
Josh: What about car racing?
Paul: Shut up, Baskin.

Mrs. Baskin: You have my son?
Josh: [Over the phone] Yes.
Mrs. Baskin: Look, if you touch one hair on his head, I swear I will spend the rest of my life making sure you suffer.
Josh: Wow, thanks.

Interviewer: Where did you go to school?
Josh: It was called George Washington.
Interviewer: Oh G.W. My brother-in-law got his doctorate there. Did you pledge?
Josh: Yes. Every morning.

Bank Teller: How would you like that?
Josh: [After he and Billy discuss it] Three dimes, a hundred dollar bill and 87 ones.

Paul: What is so special about Baskin?!
Susan: He’s a grown up!

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Freaky Friday
  • Bachelor Party
  • Vice-Versa

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