July 15, 1994 [Forrest Gump]

Tom Hanks has been eclipsed as our Beloved Everyman by Forrest Gump--and that's not so much an irony as an inevitability, the trajectory of both his and Forrest Gump's director's careers, a strange brew of sugar and brine, offering throwaway fluff one year and lead-pipe bludgeonings the next.  And out pops a movie that makes every heart swell in its final fifteen minutes--but earlier hammers away at the American Dream, a series of victories--on battle- and playing-fields, Great Plains open spaces and Gulf Coast waters--all landing randomly in the lap of a moron.

--And I mean that, as Broadway Danny Rose would say, with all due respect.  As Forrest makes his way through the second half of the 20th century, he discovers that everything he lacks is given to him, as long as he's willing to keep running.  It's as though Being There had been remade by Harper Lee on a dare: "Betcha can't turn Mortimer Snerd into Childe Rowland."  Because Forrest does brave many monsters, turns and turns and forges on--and always the Childe, never growing up all the way, the last finally first.

It's the best fantasy I've seen in years, Epic in an old-fashioned way--especially for the viewer, who changes as the journey goes on, even if Forrest doesn't.  Hanks never betrays Gump, never makes him to be less or more than he is.  It's a blank performance gently colored with the honest ink of a cartoon character, like Zemeckis' Roger Rabbit and friends, as affable an American as Marty McFly stumbling backwards through unyielding years, bullies and jerks at every turn.  I'm starting to think of It's a Wonderful Life, where another innocent is ground almost all the way down, until he figures out he's rich--which is, as Forrest notes, good: "One less thing." 


  1. I've always loved watching this movie, but it seems many hate it, making one feel almost guilty at times for enjoying it. I can see the intellectual criticism against it (condescending - and hypocritical - smug slam on the 60s, grooving on the music while sneering at the attitudes and passions that went with it; celebrating incurious "simplicity" in a way that has become all to familiar in the political realm), and the fact that I don't think Zemeckis & co. set out to make any such statement, or any statement at all, may even be a point against it.

    But I don't really care - the story is entertaining as hell, the film is often much funnier than it's given credit for (people remember the humor as if it's just a footnote to the sentimentality but sometimes I feel it's vice-versa), and the ride through American history evocative (refreshingly so given all the rather lifeless reenactments that came later; this feels, like other late 80s/early 90s boomer-produced films, like history by those who were there, even if they don't necessarily remember it they way it was, but the way they remember it).

    Most of all it's an example of a storytelling strategy I love, one surprisingly underutilized these days: the "wandering narrative" in which, as Forrest says, you never what you're going to get. Nice review.

  2. Yeah, it's one of my acid-test movies: I'm a bit leery of anyone who doesn't like this movie--and remember being surprised by how it was hated in certain circles. It seemed to hit so many notes, and so well, that I assumed everyone would find something pleasing in there.

    A movie is a Mystery Train that you get on even if you're not sure where it's going (that's why trailers are a terrible idea). You're not the conductor, let alone the engineer--like the man says, just passin through--so either enjoy the ride or hop off at the next slow turn. But don't sit there griping the whole time. As John Cassavetes supposedly said to Ben Gazzara (as I recall) when the latter mentioned that Husbands (I think) was a bit too long, "What, you got something better to do?"


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