A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 256 – Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump – November 11th, 2010

I am well aware that this movie is carefully calculated to poke just the right emotional buttons for maximum audience response. It was Oscar-bait when it came out and there are times when I am as ashamed of liking it as I am ashamed of liking last night’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (though for vastly different reasons, of course, as this movie does not have Sean Connery, Stuart Townsend or Peta Wilson in it). I think part of it is that it’s so blatant in its manipulation. It feels like it shouldn’t be as good as it is since it’s so heavy handed. Like the heavy-handedness should make me cringe in distaste. And it doesn’t. I am fully aware of it through the entire movie and I find myself not caring.

Of course, I do have a couple of other issues with the movie. It would be nice if the major female characters didn’t both get horribly sick and die. And I can’t help but find the idealization of Forrest’s naivete to be a little problematic and often exploitative. It’s not that Forrest has incredible experiences or does amazing things or has great luck. It’s that he’s portrayed as bumbling into these things and while he is certainly a sympathetic character – the movie wouldn’t work if he wasn’t – his naivete is certainly played for laughs. And you’re meant to be laughing at him, not with him. Which makes me vaguely uncomfortable. Early on in the movie Forrest’s mother tells him that he’s no different from anyone else and not to ever let anyone tell him otherwise. Good advice! And she is immensely supportive of him through her entire life, which I like. But then we are supposed to laugh when Forrest doesn’t know to stop running after reaching the end zone in a football game. We are supposed to laugh when he thinks taking “walks” in Vietnam is fun. So I’m conflicted. Fortunately, Forrest does have a comeback for his detractors. He knows how people see him and what they call him and he doesn’t like it. So we’re sort of chastised for our laughter too. And also? Forrest is a truly good person. That helps.

This movie is really a history lesson, told through the point of view of someone unconcerned with politics, both interpersonal and governmental. So everything he observes he sees from a very frank perspective. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? How does it affect him and the people he cares about? Sure, it’s a somewhat egocentric view of the world, but it works for him and ultimately it works for some of his friends. He loses his friend Bubba in Vietnam, but he does keep his Lieutenant, Dan, long term. He loses Jenny permanently near the end, but gains Forrest Jr. And the way the movie portrays its characters, the ones who have a more jaded point of view have a harder time of it than those who are more innocent. Yes, Bubba dies, but he was happy until he did. Jenny and Dan, on the other hand, are both miserable for a long portion of the movie, only becoming happy when they embrace Forrest and his way of looking at things. Which is one of those things I know would make me roll my eyes in most other movies but I just sigh and accept it here. The world Forrest inhabits is one where yes, his way is best.

Of course, the whole thing has a sort of tall tale feel to it. Once upon a time, there was a man named Forrest, and he met three presidents and fought in a war and was a championship ping pong player and ran across the United States a few times and caught shrimp and had amazing adventures! It’s even alluded to by one of the strangers he recounts his story to at the bus stop that is the platform for the rest of the movie. This is a whopper of a tale. Maybe that’s why I can just accept it. It’s not meant to be a truly realistic version of history. It’s not meant to be accurate. It’s meant to be a story of an unexpected and extraordinary life, which is what the best tall tales are.

When this movie came out, I remember there being a lot of talk about the effects used to insert Forrest into the various historical footage of the events he’s present for. School integration in Alabama, meeting presidents, etc. And thus I think I built it up in my mind to take up a large part of the movie, and it doesn’t. It’s kind of funny now to see it and think how big a deal was made of it when it’s actually a rather small portion of the film. I think what’s much better about setting the tone and feel of the various historical periods is the soundtrack and, to a slightly lesser extent, the scenes of Jenny’s life as she tries to find herself. Jenny’s wardrobe helps a lot, as do the events she’s present for, which are often not as major as Forrest’s, but are far more common experiences for people living at those times. Which also helps the movie overall. It’s a tall tale, but one that puts you firmly where it wants you, emotionally and temporarily. Add in impressive performances from Tom Hanks, Robin Wright and Gary Sinise and I can’t help but let the movie do whatever the hell it wants.

November 11, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Forrest Gump

October 11, 2010

Forrest Gump

That guy from Bosom Buddies won his second Oscar with this movie. But of course he had a lot of help. This movie is one of those dream projects that only very rarely comes along. It has an amazing, touching, heartbreakingly simple script. It has adept and wonderful direction. It has some fun special effects and a playful attitude about the pop culture of the second half of the twentieth century. And of course it has some astonishingly good acting from Tom Hanks.

This is a five-tissue movie for me. I was tearing up from the very beginning when the iconic feather that bookends the movie and the quaint theme music started. To say that this is a movie that tugs at the heart strings would be an understatement. It is a movie that grabs the heart strings and YANKS them. Repeatedly. It is a movie that has as its only purpose the goal of making you care about this simple guy from Greenbow Alabama so that when the improbable circumstances of his life unfold you can cheer or weep along.

I don’t suppose there’s any point in summing up the plot. You’ve probably seen the movie before, and if you haven’t I don’t want to spoil things. It’s the story of the life and times of Forrest Gump, a man with a million catch phrases and a childlike simplicity to him. (Who, at the time that this movie came out, was not sick almost instantly of “Life is like a box of chocolates” or “Stupid is as stupid does” or “Run, Forrest, RUN!”) Through crazy random happenstance he is part of a number of iconic moments of history in the nineteen fifties, sixties, seventies and eighties. The movie is very cleverly told through Forrest’s narration as he sits on a bench waiting for his bus and he tells his life story to a series of people sitting next to him. Throughout the movie the central theme is his simple and undying love for the tragic Jenny, his childhood friend who seems to have nothing but trouble in her life and whom he can never quite seem to save from herself and her demons.

The writing in this movie is simply astonishing. It uses a number of clever devices to draw you into Forrest’s story and make you a part of it. For example there are the people listening to his tale, simple random folk like ourselves who start out skeptical and become caught up in the story as he tells it. And there are crowd pleasing get-up-and-cheer moments like Forrest and Jenny meeting in the reflecting pool on the national mall. It’s also fun how Forrest never actually names any of the historic figures he encounters in his life – they’re just folks to him. This not only makes you use your brain a little but makes you an active participant in the story telling as you sort of translate the events he’s describing. I’ve never read the novel the book is based on, so I don’t know how much of this is the work of novelist Winston Groom and how much is that of screenplay writer Eric Roth. All I know is that the script itself is golden, which must have drawn in a lot of the talent that is attached to the film.

Robert Zemeckis has been one of my favorite directors for ages. He always enjoys using special effects as more than story-telling tools. They’re an integral part of his movies. Roger Rabbit for example creates a whole noir mystery around the flawless integration of live action and cartoons. Death Becomes Her revels in the strange ways that it can abuse the re-animated corpses that inhabit the film. And lately he has become the great pioneer into movies that blend motion capture and computer animation so that his more recent films are virtually nothing BUT special effects. This movie must have been a playground for him. Forrest is cleverly integrated into all kinds of archival footage (although in a couple cases – LBJ and John Lennon most notably – the lip replacement used doesn’t quite work.) There’s also a lot of subtle effects work used to remove Gary Sinise’s legs when his character becomes a paraplegic. So for a fan of special effects this film is a treat, and it’s kind of fun to see so many advanced techniques being used in a simple story that involves no time travel or aliens.

Speaking of Gary Sinise – his role as the bitter Lieutenant Dan is another of those things in the movie that really makes it shine. Sure Tom Hanks won the Oscar, and his Forrest is wonderful – able to communicate that though he may be simple minded he actually understands a great deal, but Gary steals the show any time he’s on screen.

I just love this movie. I know it’s manipulative. I know it’s over-the-top. But you can’t help loving Forrest or the people he cares for. It makes me cheer and it makes me cry, and it makes me want to watch it all over again…

And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

November 11, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment