Forrest Gump (1994)

forrest gump IMDb

I had not seen Forrest Gump in a long time and had forgotten what a good film it is. There are so many quotable moments in this movie. From ‘life is like a box of chocolates’ to ‘stupid is as stupid does’, there are a number of iconic quotes from this film. I had actually forgotten how many I could recite from memory in exactly the same delivery and tone as they are delivered on screen. Much of my high school was spent quoting Forrest Gump, whenever somebody ran funny at school everyone would yell ‘run Forrest, run’ at them. It was clearly not nice to be making light of a film about a handicapped man, but most kids are jerks, and my school mates were no different.

Forrest Gump is a mentally handicapped boy living in Alabama. His mother (Sally Field) gets him into a public school rather than sending him to a special needs school, and what follows is the story of a borderline retard floating through the 60s and 70s. As an adult Gump is played by Tom Hanks in his Oscar winning role. Over the course of the film, Gump gets a college scholarship playing football, fights in the Vietnam war, and tours the country playing ping pong. Gump is always drawn back to his childhood love, Jenny (Robin Wright). As she drifts through a less than pure life, Forrest can’t help but be in love with her.

This is a fun story about overcoming adversity. Gump has many challenges in his life, but faces them all with a quirky smile and determination. Hanks is great in the role. He is such a likable person, you instantly fall in love with the bumbling Gump who could have been very annoying if not played by the right actor. Hanks is the right actor, and the film works so well because of it. Much of Gump’s adventures seem very plausible, my only complaint was near the end of the film when Gump decides to run around America. That didn’t feel realistic at all, whereas all of his other adventures seemed like they could have happened to the right person at the right time.

I have heard people complaining that this film won Best Picture over Pulp Fiction at the Oscars. I really like Pulp Fiction, but there is just something charming about this film that really makes it hard not to love.

Rating: A-

There’s really no way for me to discuss Forrest Gump the movie without sharing some of my thoughts on the novel it is based on. It is a terrible book. I hated it. This is one of the few times you will ever hear me give the opinion of a book actually being worse than its movie. I mean, whoever read this and thought, “This would make a great film,” has a much better imagination than I do.

The biggest change between the film and the book is how it treats the central character of Forrest Gump. In the book he is an idiot savant who swears and is more sexually charged. The movie smooths the edges of Forrest’s personality, transforming him into a lovable dimwit with a unfailing moral compass. He becomes a completely one dimensional character, but is also more likable than the Forrest presented in the book. And right there is the only real problem with this movie: it’s really quite shallow.

Not that I don’t enjoy this film. It’s been one of my family’s favorites since it’s release. It’s funny and touching thanks to brilliant performances by the entire cast. We quote it often, often to my sister Jenny’s annoyance (She’s been subjected to people impersonating Forrest while saying her name since 1994, and yet everyone she meets acts like they’re the first person to make the joke.).  To me it’s a fun journey through American history, and I don’t understand why people act like there’s a lot more to it.

I guess my main quibble is that the movie views everything through very rose-colored glasses. This is a Baby Boomer nostalgia trip that really paints a rather cheery picture of the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. The reality of these decades was far worse, and yet two of the biggest revolutions of the day– the Civil Rights and Women’s movements– are barely acknowledged. Also, Forrest does very little to shape his own destiny; everything just sort of happens to him. There is a lot of dumb luck involved in his life, which leads him on many funny adventures but is a completely foolish way to live. (It’s interesting to note that conservatives have really latched onto this movie. Kind of hilarious that the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” crowd would want to identify with a man who wouldn’t have anything if not for the people around him ensuring that he is well provided for.)

But politics (or lack thereof) aside, this is an incredibly sweet movie. I’ll admit that I can be swayed by sentimentality on the screen, and Forrest Gump definitely pushes that button. It helps a lot that Tom Hanks perfectly plays the character, but props to Gary Sinise as Lieutenant Dan, as well. He’s actually the best character in the whole film.

Rating: B+

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