THE ADULTS: FORGETTING TO LIVE THEIR TRUTH
This was determined by the years since 1988, that now iconic-like ‘ ‘BIG’’ by Penny Marshall is generally considered as a purely family movie for all ages. The story of 13-year-old Josh Baskin and his adventures in the world of the grown-ups evidently fits the expectations of a wide spectrum of the audience. At the same time, the mature and more conscious viewers would fully appreciate the revealing and life-asserting lessons from this story. The movie reminds us that there is only one step from a child to an adult and vice versa. One would claim that only a path toward maturing is worth mentioning, yet every adult from time to time wants to stay a child for some time.
The highlight of this story is not about the world of a 13-year-old kid with its striking contrast with adulthood. As early as the very first Josh’s experience with the inevitable reality of Manhattan, the movie speaks ironically about the behavior of those, who claim themselves to be mature. In that memorable scene within the ‘St. James Hotel’, we can witness what an antisocial way of living some people prefer when not being confronted by parents or social judging. By taking into consideration the sounds behind Josh’s wall, the house steward, the conditions in the rooms, it is easy to imagine what do the visitors do here at night. It looks even more grotesque when we understand that Tom Hanks’ character rents a room in such a place with a 13-year-old kid.
– Billy: This one looks all right.
– Josh: No, it doesn’t.
– Billy: St. James, Josh! It’s religious.
The movie does its best in saying that the adults behave pretty the same as children in multiple ways and MacMillan Toy Company is a story direction that means to highlight the truth. The designated person, who performs job interviews, is nervously clicking a pen: an analog of childish attention to the nails. A few moments later, Susan expresses her sneering attitude toward some person, the way she had probably done at school. The person in authority does not pay enough attention to Josh’s social number and the relevance and authenticity of his experience and just asks when the candidate can start. During his first day at work, the protagonist gets acquainted with a colleague, who teaches him his first lesson of corporate life: you should not hurry in performing your duties. A few scenes later, Jon Lovitz’s character (who would later make a great performance in another comedy ‘Mr. Destiny’) regrettably comments on his poor salary, though he has the attitude of a schoolboy. He is much more motivated by advantages rather than involved in doing his work with proper devotion. The owner of the company (played by Robert Loggia) has to admire an employee, who has some deadline while copying files.
– Josh: What’s this?
– Scotty Brennen: Payday.
– Josh: A hundred and eighty-seven dollars?
– Scotty Brennen: Yeah. They really screw you, don’t they?”
“- Scotty Brennen: Listen, what’re you tryin’ to do, get us all fired? You gotta pace yourself, slowly, slowly.
– Josh: It’s my first day.
– Scotty Brennen: I know!
The involvement of another two important characters: Susan (Elizabeth Perkins) and Paul (John Heard) shows us in a comic way, that mature people who work for a large corporation in New York may behave themselves similarly to school children. They used themselves to use lie in order to be attractive to other people, to get promotions, or to lure a person of the opposite sex. In a memorable scene within a playing yard, Paul Davenport openly bullies Josh and makes a childish kick-up with Tom Hanks’ character. His antipathy toward Josh lies in common jealousy, an injured vanity when a newcomer gets a larger officer, the better attitude of the boss, and even Paul’s girl. As for Susan, take notice that she takes a cigarette in almost every scene of the first half of the movie, thus demonstrating her inner insecurity, discomfort while constantly fitting into the unpleasant environment. The company staff wastes their time at boring corporate parties, they eat black caviar, which is more a status marker than some delicacy.
It is worth mentioning that a toy company, Josh’s place of work in the world of the grown-ups, provides an irony on how this world is operating. Thirty-, forty- and fifty-year-old men in black suits with their prestigious diplomas in Marketing and Sales, created and sold toys to children, based on rough statistics rather than the needs of their audience. It is easy to imagine Paul Davenport working in any other sphere, for example selling automobiles. The top management of MacMillan Toy Company is lost in the routine of meaningless single-type briefings. The ‘BIG’ movie by Penny Marshall shows us how fully-grown established persons lost their ability of will to create something, to think creatively.
Another clue regarding the unitariness of the company staff may be found by paying attention to the interiors of their apartments. While taking a closer look at Paul’s and Susan’s living conditions, it becomes obvious that they follow the same patterns. In this respect, a creative and maybe foolish choice of Josh’s new apartment appearance plays such great contrast. In wider means, the man from MacMillan Toy Company serves as a comic example and exaggeration of the lack of originality, which most of us have turned into a daily routine. Most of the time, people play some social roles and try to be someone else, which does not allow them to fulfill their professional potential. Robert Loggia’s character also contrasts with his top managers: he seeks new ideas, visits the toy stores for inspiration, and appreciates the creativity of a new generation of employees. Precisely because Josh does not try to be someone else (similar to Hanks’ other iconic character Forrest Gump), he easily gets the position of Vice President of Product Development and a large office.
One would think, in what way a 13-old kid can influence the fully-grown and successful corporate sharks. This is exactly what happens when Josh redefines the lives of a few characters obviously for the better. Mr. MacMillan, who has been previously sick of pencil theoreticians, is now full of enthusiasm of a new employee to the extent, that he gives an impetus to a new course of development, reforms his managing staff meetings, and for the first times in years he takes delight in the corporate guest night.
For obvious reasons, Susan is the one character who experiences the most significant changes in her life. She abandons the habit to use relations and sex for building her own career. The woman discontinues attending boring night meetings with boring people for the sake of social status. She even abandons or minimizes her devotion to bad habits. Toward the climax of the story, Susan starts to appreciate men for their openness, even softness, and she wants to hear something more about the nature of her new relationship.
THE CHILD: JOSH’S MOVING INTO ADULTHOOD
As the story goes on, the audience is falling under the impression that all changes in Josh’s life are for good. He has obtained a unique experience for his age, moved to New York from Jersey, got a prestigious position at an international corporation in Manhattan, lives in a huge apartment with panoramic windows, a trampoline, and free Pepsi, finally, he gets into a relationship with a pretty woman. This metamorphosis is indeed second to none for a 13-year-old schoolboy, though his key motivation throughout the story is to get back to his ordinary life. Josh Baskin has evidently obtained some privileges, but at the cost of the tragedy in his own family. Let’s not forget that for six consecutive weeks his mother goes out of her mind with worry about her kidnapped son, while Josh’s photo is being printed on the milk packs. His best friend Billy has to lie and conceal the truth while witnessing the woman’s despair.
Above all, it is essential to recall that a move to New York was a kind of a desperate measure to hide oneself beyond Jersey and to earn some money for existence in the hope of a new encounter with Zoltar. There is no way for Josh to make a living for a couple of dozens of dollars from Billy and his upcoming employability is more a forced decision rather than a stage in maturing. The story goes with a company, which creates and sells toys, as probably the only place even in fiction where a 13-year-old kid could get a high-paid job and even admiration of a boss. A few days later Josh gets his first salary and the two friends waste the money for fun. Following getting a Vice President position, Josh spends thousands of dollars on a luxury apartment and entertainment as opposed to saving money for his family.
The key character is still a child in his approach to finding a job when Josh lies about his professional experience and social number. At the very beginning of the story, he used to lie to look older in the eyes of a girl, and now he does the same to fit the new environment. The company that sells toys and the incredible boss, the one that fits good only for a fiction movie, are just the story means to hide Josh’s childish behavior. On the other hand, we see how calm and even desolated Tom Hanks looks in the scene when he visits his neighborhood in Jersey. In fact, he has just adapted himself to a new environment, which does not automatically mean adulthood. As a matter of fact, even his final decision to leave an important company meeting to find Zoltar for a new wish, was an impulsive act, while feeling himself abandoned and bewildered. Getting back to the beginning, it was Josh’s childish impulsiveness, which made the turned-off machine work in a magic way.
The ‘BIG’ movie goes further with its philosophical principles and reinvents the well-known wisdom, that ‘The grass is always greener on the other side’. It is natural for most children to imagine the world of adults in some idealistic way. For Josh this image was shaped by an image of himself, who does not have to take out the trash, to look after a little sister, and to visit the headmaster’s office in the school. He wants to be old enough to have relations with a girl from a school, who pays regard to the older boys. The image of the adult future includes the salary, which may be spent as he sees it. On the other hand, the kid evidently does not foreshadow the liabilities and duties of the 30-year-old ones. The very first night at the unpleasant hotel throws cold water on Josh and he can’t put eyes together while being scared. The life-affirming idea of the movie is that the grass is always greener at the present moment and where you are!
– Mrs. Baskin: Josh, take out the garbage!
– Josh: In a minute, Mom! [talking to himself] Melt the wizard.
– Computer game: What do you want to melt him with?
– Josh: What do you think I want to use? Throw the thermal pod.
– Mrs. Baskin: JOSH!! The garbage is starting to stink up the house! Take it out, NOW!!
– Mr. Baskin: Josh, you heard your mother!
While rewatching the movie a number of times, you get an idea that, in fact, Josh wants to stay a kid. He takes delight in his life as a 13-year-old schoolboy, in the school routine and his environment, his friendship with Billy, and his family. The point is, that Josh has not wanted to skip dozens of years of his life and become a 30-year-old guy. If we take a closer look at his minute of despair prior to the first encounter with Zoltar, Josh was upset by a falling out with a girl. He had tried to look older than he was in order to get into a relationship, a natural adolescent relationship in his age. As a result, Cynthia naturally chooses a boy, who does not need to lie to look older or someone else. By reshaping into the appearance of Tom Hanks, Josh now can see Cynthia only from a distance. By getting a relationship with a mature woman Susan, the protagonist understands that he is simply not ready for such matters, he had never envisioned before. Josh wants to stay in his 13-year-old body and to spend time with girls from school, by holding hands and visiting an amusement park, rather than living in Manhattan and speaking about love.
– Josh: I’m a child.
– Susan: What?
– Josh: I’m a child, Susan, and I’m– I’m not ready for all of this.
– Susan: Oh, that’s fine. That is– That’s just great.
Josh comes to understand that he has adopted himself for a life in the world of adults, though he does not belong to that world. It is indeed only one step from a child to a grown-up, but Josh Baskin is not ready to make it. Some kind of moving into adulthood is presented not by a raincoat, an apartment in New York, and a relationship with Susan. His adulting comes with the understanding that Josh has to get back home in his body and that Susan needs another man. Josh does not love her and he just can’t do it right now, that’s why he can’t answer her question in regard to the nature of their romance, even regarding his later words about the only reason to stay. Apart from this, he can’t sacrifice his friendship with Billy for the sake of a relationship with a woman. To be grown-up means to have the strength to backtrack the relations, which makes someone of the two suffer. Toward the end of the story, the movie fully exposes to be a revealing parable for the adults. In the end, Susan refused a chance to get back to her adolescence, because she understands what world she belongs to as well. The movie teaches us the idea that we should always pay the highest regard to what we have at the moment: our family and friends, school or work, social environment and benefits, and little things in life.
Susan: I mean, if it’s an affair, that’s one thing. But if it’s–i-if it’s s-something else–Not that we have to know right now. We don’t. But if we think that it could turn into something else, well– How do you feel about all this?
– Josh: How do I feel about what?
– Susan: How do you- How do you f-feel about me?