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Don’t Want to Grow Up

Our guest blogger today is Joe Shearer, co-founder of

I was 11 years old in 1988, when Big hit theaters. Tom Hanks by that point was a relatively big star, having appeared in films such as Splash, Bachelor Party (a movie I wasn’t supposed to watch, but somehow managed to see most of), and TV’s Bosom Buddies, where he and Peter Scolari pretended to be women to score a rent-controlled apartment.

I knew Hanks best from Splash and – in what remains arguably his most underrated role – as new homeowner Walter Fielding in The Money Pit alongside Shelley Long. I was in love with that movie, with Hanks and Long watching helplessly as their fixer-upper only fell apart the more they tried to fix it up.

Big, however, marked a change in Hanks’ career. It was a gentle first step away from comedy and into a more dramatic, grown-up role, ironic of course considering the film is about a little boy who finds himself in a grown-up body.

Sure, looking back it’s a metaphor for Hanks’ career as he struggled for maturity in his roles at a time when people largely wanted him to be funny (you can practically see him fighting the comedy in films like Turner and Hooch, where he continued mixing laughter and tears, and Punchline, a drama where Hanks played…a comedian. Soon he would be playing a gay man with AIDS, an astronaut, a soldier in World War II, and would start collecting Oscars, becoming one of the great actors of our time.

But as with the best of cinema, it also serves as a symbol for me. I remember upon leaving the theater with my dad, he brought up the scene where Hanks and Robert Loggia play “Chopsticks” on the giant keyboard at FAO Schwartz. “That scene will be famous for years to come,” he told me, “like when they ride in front of the moon in ET or when the Terminator says “I’ll be back.”

Of course, my dad was right, and I think of his words every time that scene comes on. It’s magical how that one moment can be burned into the collective retinas of the moviegoing public, and it sparked in me the idea that a film isn’t necessarily a single two-hour experience but, like life, is a collection of smaller moments stitched together. When done correctly, it tells a poignant, personal story that viewers will cherish forever.

Most of all, though, for me Big means something larger: coming out in ’88, at a time when every day the TV reminded us that we were Toys R Us kids who never wanted to grow up, that capturing and holding onto the essence of childhood is important and that becoming an adult doesn’t have to mean losing that. I remember thinking Josh Baskin’s job as a toy designer was the sweetest gig a guy could get and it inspired me to find a job I loved, rather than simply something that paid the bills.

Perhaps it’s Hanks who is to get some of the credit, or, depending on whom you ask, the blame for my generation’s obsession with video games, action figures, comic books, cartoons, and based-on-a-line-of-toys movies that inundate our lives, to some’s consternation and my unabashed, giddy delight.

I’ve shown my kids Big and when the piano scene comes on, I say the same thing to them my dad told me. They watch, enrapt, and wish they had that piano to play on the same way I did when I saw it with my dad. Today it reminds me of who I used to be, and to stay that person, even as I raise my own children. It’s important to do the small things, like look the other way when they’re breaking a rule, or letting them stay up a little late on a school night, or watch a movie they’re perhaps not supposed to watch, or buy them each a little something when we go to the store. What can I say? I’m a Toys R Us kid. Just ask my wife.

Come see Big at this week’s Summer Nights screening at the IMA.

Filed under: Film, Public Programs

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