#83 Forrest Gump
(1994, Robert Zemeckis)
“Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re gonna get”
A lone man sits on a bench waiting for a bus. As he waits, he begins to relay the story of his life to passers-by, an unusual tale of accidentally being involved in major political events and achieving great success despite the limitations life had thrown at him.
This man is Forrest Gump, played by Tom Hanks, a man with considerably lower than average intelligence. Forced to wear leg braces as a child, he eventually overcame this physical disability and became good at running, allowing him to earn a place on a college football team. This event leads to him meeting presidents and major historical figures, all without him realising the true significance of all of this, whilst continuously pining for his childhood love, Jenny (Robin Wright).
Forrest Gump is a nice movie. Nice isn’t exactly the most descriptive of words, but it works here. Everything in the movie is wrapped up in an inherent…niceness that it’s hard to describe it any more accurately.
However, this isn’t necessarily a good thing. While Forrest Gump was an incredibly entertaining movie, I sat through the whole thing thinking how incredibly contrived most of it actually was. Gump enters life with disabilities, and yet constantly achieves things that most people would never come close to achieving. While I’m not suggesting disabled people should never achieve the same as more able-bodied or able-minded people can, the fact that Gump meets several presidents, wins a Medal of Honour, sets up his own business (which gets successful out of pure luck) and just generally seems to coast through life without the kind of trials a real disabled person would face (bar being bullied at school) just seems incredibly unrealistic, and it constantly bugged me.
It may seem like nit-picking but for a movie that wants me to feel so sympathetic towards the main character, I just began to feel like everything was getting handed to him; that everything would always work out for him, no matter what. It also bugged me to get the sense that God or Fate was constantly watching over Gump, and this is what was assisting his push to greatness. Truthfully, I’d probably have preferred a movie where a disabled man overcame the genuine trials of a disabled person to become great.
But, for what it is, an idealistic fantasy movie, it’s quite good. Tom Hanks does a brilliant job as the main character, playing a blissfully stupid character with a heart of gold. He never overplays the fact that Gump is stupid, seemingly choosing to play him rather childlike (almost evoking memories of his performance in Big, only much better), and it works brilliantly.
I was also genuinely impressed with the way Hanks had been edited into real historical footage. It’s not perfect, since it’s possible to see where the real archive footage ends and the CGI enhancements begin, but the effect works well enough for its purposes. Just seeing Hanks standing confused at the back of the crowd at the Stand At The Schoolhouse Door event is fantastic. To see him talking to John F. Kennedy and John Lennon is even better.
There are also some sweet moments of comedy here too, such as Gump telling Kennedy “I gotta pee” that I did enjoy. The entire subplot with General Dan (Gary Sinise) from Gump’s time in Vietnam was also a real emotional rollercoaster and I loved every minute of it. I also sat wondering how the hell they made it look so believable that he had no legs.
As for the character of Jenny, who was supposed to be so important in Gump’s life, I really didn’t like her, and kind of hoped that part of the emotional arc was Gump realising that she was a bit too messed-up for a simple man such as him. I didn’t enjoy her constant weaving in and out of Gump’s life whenever she had no one else to turn to, and found her an incredibly unsympathetic character as a result.
Forrest Gump is a very idealistic film overall. It’s not even remotely realistic, but for someone seeking some simple escapism, it does its job brilliantly, and I can’t fault it for that.
Starring Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson & Sally Field
Written by Winston Groom (novel) & Eric Roth
Produced by Wendy Finerman, Steve Tisch & Steve Starkey
Music by Alan Silvestri
Cinematography by Don Burgess
Edited by Arthur Schmidt
Favourite Scene: Gump inspiring John Lennon to write “Imagine” for some reason stands out for me. That and the scene where he tells Kennedy he needs to pee. Yes, that’s two scenes. Sue me.
Scene That Bugged Me: I saw Bubba’s death coming pretty much as soon as he appeared on screen. It was such a predictable cliché that I spent every single moment he was on screen thinking “is this where he dies?”
Watch it if: You want nice bit of escapist drama for a while
Avoid it if: You want the realistic struggles of a disabled man