By the time Hanks headlined Big, he was already a familiar face. He had made a name for himself in comedy, mostly, at which he had proved himself to be naturally skilled. Big, though, gave us a glimpse of something different. Yes, there is a lot of excellent comedy in this all-time classic movie, as Hanks delivers sequences of physical gags that make all the behind-the-scenes choreography seem completely effortless. But we also see real emotion – and because he was known at the time for laughs, these moments of heartache pack a real punch.
The film follows a young boy named Josh who is consumed with frustration at what he feels is the overly slow passage of time. He is bored with childhood and being small, and wishes to be grown up already. Stumbling upon Zoltar the magic wish machine at a carnival, Josh spends his quarter and wishes to be big. The next morning, he wakes up as an adult man – and he’s played by Tom Hanks.
He desperately tries to find the machine, but the carnival is gone. He tries to tell his mother, but she instead assumes that the grown man before her has abducted her son. He manages to convince his best friend of his predicament, and together they find that the Zoltar machine will not return to town for several months – so, of course, Josh manages to get himself a job with a toy company in the city and rent a terrible room in which to live.
This situation means that Josh is a pre-teen trying to pass for a grown man in an adult world – but it is Hanks’ performance that fills the story with warmth and heart. Becoming overwhelmed with fear on his first night alone in the city, and softly crying for his mother; playing with toys during a corporate meeting; innocently deflecting the romantic advances of a female colleague (Elizabeth Perkins), while encouraging her to trampoline. Big is filled with scenes that are brilliantly written, and wonderfully shot – but it is Tom Hanks that makes the material truly sing.