Big (1988): Comedy, Dominated by Career-Making, Oscar Performance from Tom Hanks

One of the first comedies about body-swapping and identity-switching, Big is a charming film, boasting a career-making performance from Tom Hanks.

The comedy, written by Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg (the director’s sister) and Penny Marshall (formerly TV actress), catapulted Hanks to the major league of stars after working for nearly a decade.

The tale’s nominal hero is Josh (David Moscow), a 13-year old boy from New Jersey, who can’t wait to mature—be “big.”

It’s the kind of universal wish that many boys his age experience, a result of frustrations caused by social  restrictions, not to mention hormonal conditioning.

Josh declares his fantasy at an amusement pier fortunetelling machine.  Lo and behold, his wish comes true. The next morning, Josh wakes up-only to discover that he’s grown to manhood overnight!

Now played by Tom Hanks, he still is a 13-year-old mentally and emotionally, and he decides to hide out in New York City until he can figure out what to do next.

Josh lucks into a job with a major toy company run by McMillan (Robert Loggia). By cannily bringing a child’s eye view to McMillan’s business, Josh rises to the top. In the process, he falls in love with fellow employee at the toy store, Susan (Elizabeth Perkins). But he’s still a kid, and he’d like to go back to his own world and own body.

The movie contains many amusing scenes, one of which depicts Loggia and hanks tap-dancing to “Heart and Soul,” on a huge keyboard in F.A.O. Schwartz.

The critical acclaim and commercial popularity of “Big” led to another collaboration between director Penny Marshall and Hanks, “A League of Their Own.”

Production values are excellent, especially cinematography Barry Sonenfeld, who went on to become a director with “The Addams Family.”

When the text was turned into a Broadway musical, it failed.

Due to its inventive writing and light direction, “Big” overcame the problems f many other high-concept comedies.

It may or may not be a coincidence that within a year, two other similarly-themed movies were released: “Like father, Like Son,” starring Dudley Moore and “vice Versa with Judge Reinhold.  The first movie to use this concept might have been “Freaky Friday,” with Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster, in 1977.

Oscar Nominations: 2

Screenplay (Original): Gary Ross and Anne Spielberg

Actor: Tom Hanks

Oscar Awards: None

Oscar Context:

The winners of the Original Screenplay Oscar were Ron Bass and Barry Morrow for Barry Levinson’s “Rain Man,” which swept the major Oscars, including a second Best Actor for Dustin Hoffman.