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.

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November 11, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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