Saturday, October 27, 2012

Stubs - Forrest Gump

FORREST GUMP (1994) Starring: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, Sally Field.  Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Screenplay by Eric Roth. Based on the novel by Winston Groom.  Music by Alan Silvestri.  Produced by Wendy Finerman, Steve Tisch, Steve Starkey Run Time: 141. Color U.S. Drama, Romance

Okay, it’s still Horror movie month, but Phantom of the Opera (1943) left such a bad taste in our mouth that we’re moving on a little earlier than intended.

This week, we’re watching Forrest Gump, the Academy Award winning film for 1994. Now, like everyone else alive and breathing in 1994, I went to see this in the theater. However, there are some films that get repeatedly referenced (see listing on IMDB) that you sometimes have to watch them again or share them with the next generation.

In the nearly 20 years since I first saw this film, I have to admit that my opinion hasn’t really changed all that much. The film has all the appearance and feel of an epic film. It tells a story that spans nearly 30 years in the life of a very simple man, who through happenstance appears at many of the major events between 1956 and 1982. The only events Forrest misses out on or fails to mention would be the Beatles on Ed Sullivan and man landing on the moon. Otherwise, he teaches Elvis how to dance, plays football at Alabama for legendary coach Bear Bryant, witnesses Governor George Wallace’s attempt to keep blacks from entering the University, meets Presidents Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, goes to Vietnam, is awarded the medal of honor, speaks at a Peace Rally, participates in ping pong détente with the Chinese, reports the Watergate break-in as it happens, makes a fortune in the shrimp business, is an early investor in Apple Computers, invents the smiley face, the expression Shit Happens and loses a loved one to AIDS (which is described in the film as a virus that the doctors can’t cure). Whew! It’s sort of like watching the video for the Billy Joel song “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which documents pretty much every event a baby boomer should know.

But in the end, what was the purpose? What did we learn? What were we supposed to learn? Forrest (Tom Hanks) doesn’t really change. He is the same simple-minded man at the end of the film that he was as a kid at the beginning. While he participates in many of the founding events during his life, he doesn’t really seem to be changed by them. In many ways, Forrest is a very-one dimensional character. The flying fickle feather of fate (with apologies to the old Laugh-In show) may fly around and land on Forrest, but he is never tickled by it.

And when it is of use to the story, Forrest is capable of understanding things you wouldn’t expect someone with a 75 IQ to do. As an example, he learns to not only run a boat, but also how to run a small business and fish for shrimp. While we have to admire his stick-to-it-ness, I doubt there are any self-taught shrimpers out there.

Tom Hanks’ performance, which won him another Academy Award, is restrained. As Forrest, he is not able to respond to situations the way most of us would. It is like looking at the world through the eyes of an adult child, who happens to have a Midas touch. The character is not an everyman. He is not someone I can identify with, though I am sympathetic with him. However, the acting is very much like a singer hitting the same note over and over again. You may admire that ability, but where is the range? Just as a song with one note would get old, so does Hank’s Forrest Gump.

To go with the epic story, there is a love story. Forrest is in love with Jenny (Robin Wright), who was the first person, outside of his mother (Sally Field) to treat him with dignity. From the first day of school, when she lets him sit next to her on the bus until the day she dies, Forrest is in love with, always thinking about, naming a fleet of shrimp boats after Jenny. But Jenny is for the most part having her own misadventures. A pose in a Playboy college girls pictorial gets Jenny kicked out of school, she takes to playing folk songs in the buff, participates in the peace movement, the drug culture, before pulling herself together and flying right, though we find out it is already too late.

For Sally Fields, there is not a lot she has to work with as Forrest’s mother. She spouts a few odd sayings that don’t really make sense, but get oft repeated: “Life is like a box of chocolates” and “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Mykelti Williamson was a stand out as Benjamin Buford “Bubba” Blue, the not quite as dimwitted, shrimp-obsessed friend Gump meets in the Army and goes to Vietnam with. Bubba is why Forrest decides to be a shrimp fisherman.

The part of Lt. Dan, put Gary Sinise on the map. While he had been in films for about ten years, his portrayal of Forrest’s squadron leader in Vietnam, turned amputee, turned business partner was a coming out party of sorts for the actor. His is the one character that changes, even physically, though much of his metamorphosis is done off screen. We’re led to believe that Forrest has an influence on him, but we’re never really shown what that is or how it manifests itself. Lt. Dan is just changed.

Robert Zemeckis is a director that loves to use special effects to tell a story. While of late, his use of special effects seem to get in the way of telling the story (Polar Express, Beowulf, A Christmas Carol and please stop him from remaking Yellow Submarine) their use is somewhat restrained in Forrest Gump. They are used to great and subtle effects to show, as an example, Lt. Dan as an amputee. You’d almost swear that Sinise really lost his legs.

Another excellent use is when we see Forrest’s namesake put on his Klu Klux Klan outfit and ride seamlessly into footage from Birth of a Nation. That is really very impressive.

Where they are used in other places, however, they sometimes stumble. Since Forrest is constantly being invited to the White House, he has to interact with several Presidents. File footage of each is used and altered to fit the Gump story. And isn’t it funny to hear Kennedy relay that Forrest has to pee or Lyndon Johnson to have an odd fascination with Gump’s surgery scar or have Nixon offer to put Gump up at the Watergate Hotel on the same night of the planned break-in of Democratic Headquarters? The effect though is more other worldly than believable. Clutch Cargo handled superimposed lips better than this movie. The one thing it does is show how much better this kind of special effect has gotten since this film was made.

I think one of the things that made Forrest Gump such a big film was a sense of nostalgia amongst baby boomers. I don’t think that it speaks as well to any other generation. It is not really a history lesson nor does it show what it was like to grow up through that time. For most baby boomers, the 60’s was an event you witnessed on TV and listened to on the radio.

While Forrest Gump is a movie that should be seen, I don’t think it is really as great as the hype would lead you to believe. You spend nearly two and half hours listening to a simple man monologue on his extraordinary life and while there are moments of real pathos, there are not enough to carry it all the way through. It’s funny in places, but not so much that you really laugh. When you leave the theater or eject the DVD or stop the stream, you really won’t have gained any real insight into anything. While films can be purely entertainment, the great films do more.

No comments:

Post a Comment