Film / Penny Marshall

'Big' (1988) by Penny Marshall

. 5 min read . Written by Lindsay Pugh
'Big' (1988) by Penny Marshall

Vibe:
Heavily nostalgic. "Big" reminds me what it was like to be twelve-years-old and wanting so desperately to be independent from my parents even though I still loved and needed them.

Twelve-years-old is right around the time when I realized, "oh, shit...I shouldn't play with Barbies anymore." So I stopped cold turkey and started devoting my free time to convincing my mom to buy me overpriced graphic tees at Hollister.

I definitely would have wished for Zoltar to make me big, if given the opportunity at that age.

Best time to watch:
Next time you're visiting your parents and need something to watch that isn't "monumentally depressing or super fucking weird." Jim and Joni Pugh typically hate my movie recommendations and I knew they weren't going to want to watch "Cleo from 5 to 7," which is the movie I originally planned on writing about this week, so we settled on "Big."

Sidenote: we also watched "20th Century Women," which I LOVED so much and highly recommend.

Whenever you're feeling sad about adulting. Summer always makes me especially sad that I'm no longer a kid, when my only responsibility was to stay out of the house for as many hours as possible. I would spend hours lying on my parents' porch swing, reading books and napping; it was glorious.

Whenever you're feeling sad in general. Watching Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia play the piano is as effective as any SSRI I've tried.

Worst time to watch:
Worst time to watch? No such thing. This movie is the opposite of "Antichrist" in the sense that it's appropriate for everyone/any occasion.

Where to watch:
You can stream it on Amazon Prime with a 7-day free trial of Starz. While you're at it, check out "American Gods." I watched one episode and didn't love it, but it shows promise.

Quick summary:
(Young) Josh (David Moscow) is a twelve-year-old living in Cliffside Park, New Jersey. Aside from the fact that he shares a bedroom with his infant sister, life isn't terrible. His mom (Mercedes Ruehl) seems kind of stupid, but she definitely loves him and he lives next to his bff Billy (Jared Rushton), a small, chubby ginger with a cool leather jacket.

Everything is fine until he finds out that his crush Cynthia (Kimberlee M. Davis) is dating an older guy, one who is tall enough to ride The Ring of Fire and even [gasp] drive. When Josh's wish to be big is granted by an unplugged Zoltar machine, Tom Hanks graces us with his appearance and takes this movie into adorable overdrive.

Thoughts:
As a kid, I was always obsessed with fortune tellers, tarot cards, witches, etc. And I still love that shit, even though I know it's hoax-y garbage. I've gotten my aura read at Magic Jewelry and have camped out overnight with my ouija board in Greenwood Cemetery. During my first year in New York, when I was broke and friendless, I spent hours poring over Scouting NY and finding new, creepy places to check off my list.

But somehow, I made it five years without visiting Zoltar. During my last month in the city, I dragged my boyfriend to Coney Island so we could check him out and was thoroughly disappointed. This Coney Island Zoltar, located in the arcade under the Wonder Wheel, doesn't grant wishes; he tells a lame, rudimentary fortune and you don't even get to toss a quarter into his mouth. This couldn't be the best Zoltar the city had to offer.

When we got back to Manhattan, I decided I needed another Zoltar experience, for comparison's sake and had sort of remembered there being one at Gem Spa. So I dragged my boyfriend to Second Avenue and St. Mark's Place on the pretense of buying him a really delicious egg cream and was heartbroken to find the same freakin' machine as the one in Coney Island. This one sucked even more because it had the audacity to give me the same exact card as the previous Zoltar:

I took this betrayal as a sign that New York had served me with one too many disappointments and I was making the right choice by leaving.

Adulthood as a whole is full of disappointments. All the things you thought would be really magical/empowering as a kid turn out to be mundane/soul-sucking as an adult. Kid Lindsay would find it so impressive and cool that adult Lindsay moved to New York and got a job at a publishing agency in Manhattan. Unfortunately, kid Lindsay's spirit was completely dead by the time it happened and adult Lindsay was too tired of being poor all the time and writing weird copy about gargoyle sex to find any of it exciting.

If re-watching "Big" as an adult has taught me anything, it's that we would all be happier, more productive members of society if we found a way to preserve our childhood excitement. When you're kid, every day is a new adventure and there's always something to look forward to: summer vacation, graduating high school, graduating college, moving to a new city, getting a job, falling in love, etc. After you've hit all of those milestones, it's impossible not to wonder, "is this it?"

When there's no clear path forward, it's hard to know where to go and what to do. How can you feel excited about a murky future when you're smart and experienced enough to come to terms with your realistically limited options? As a kid, I always thought adults had so much power. They make their own choices! They can go where they want, when they want, and no one can hold them back. Sadly, that's not true at all.

The older we get, the more ties that bind us to the life we're already living. I can't pack up my belongings and move to the South of France because I have a job, house, cats, and partner in Michigan. People (and fluffy friends) are counting on me here and I would be a monumental asshole if I let them down just so I could go live out some frivolous dream.

The adults in "Big" like (or are jealous of) Josh because he's exciting, unpredictable, and hasn't yet been beaten down by life's strictures. He's not seasoned or self-aware enough to feel bad about his sexual inexperience and social ineptitude. Adults like him don't really exist in the real world, at least not as sincerely. He is who he is without pretense.

At the end of the movie, when he starts ignoring Billy and becoming obsessed with his job, we see the confines of life and outside influence starting to take hold. There are real stakes and people are counting on Josh to come through for them. He's starting to feel the weight of responsibility and the impact his actions have on other people. If he stays in that world for much longer, he knows he'll be unable to leave. He'll become rooted and will no longer remember what it's like to live day-to-day without a care in the world.

And so he goes back. He finds Zoltar, wishes to be small, and gets to enjoy the rest of his life as a kid. Adulthood will eventually creep in, but it will happen slowly over a string of many years. So slowly, in fact, that he'll wake up one day and suddenly realize that he can no longer escape. The ties that bind him are too tight and he's trapped. There's no Zoltar machine to save him this time.