While not the first, Robert Zemeckis’s Forrest Gump is the greatest example of the “meet-‘em-and-move-on” film, following one character throughout his life as he touches and is touched by countless others, often in ways he doesn’t even comprehend. In this case, it’s set against the backdrop of late 20th-century America, and even if Forrest doesn’t fathom the influence of his adventures, we the audience do, laughing, crying, and remembering along the way.
Tom Hanks most definitely deserved his Best Actor Academy Award for his simple yet profound portrayal of Forrest, Forrest Gump. Rather than being some caricature of the mentally handicapped, his folksy candor creates a memorable paragon of innocent observation. His unbiased impressions of some painfully turbulent years in US history act as a neutral lens through which we can view events like the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, and the hippie movement without any potentially alienating political opinions. They just were, and Forrest was there. It’s a simple idea, but much care and effort were made in pulling it off successfully. The Oscar-winning effects team placed Forrest into archive footage, allowing him to seamlessly interact with Presidents and celebrities. Yet through all of his adventures, he remains the same lovable mama’s boy, harboring (as the writer Eric Roth has stated) an unshakeable faith in only three things: God, his wise mother (Sally Field), and his sweetheart Jenny (Robin Wright). It’s funny, though, that Field plays Hanks’s mother here when she played his love interest in Punchline just six years earlier.
Jenny chooses the opposite approach of Forrest’s clean-cut journey through the decades. Whereas his homespun values preserve Forrest unsullied for the most part, in the world but not of the world, Jenny embraces the sex, drugs, and destructive lifestyle that captured so many in the 1960s, all the while keeping her would-be suitor at a distance. Her “spoiled goods” mentality is frustrating because of her own foolish choices, and tragic because of Forrest’s unrequited love for her, at least until the end. Forrest Gump is a prime example of how an opinion can make a 360 over time; my VC disliked the film’s ending at first, mainly due to how Jenny used Forrest’s affection for her to sneak a one-night stand and then did not contact him again until she was dying. Over time, she’s come to love the film as much as I do and to recognize more authenticity in Jenny’s deathbed declaration of love. As disheartening as their degrading lifestyles became, the eventual turnaround for Jenny and for Lieutenant Dan (a fantastic Gary Sinise) is what provides the satisfying, tear-worthy conclusion that “meet-‘em-and-move-on” films do so well. (By the way, did anyone else notice that Jenny’s abusive boyfriend in Washington, D.C., was named Wesley? Robin Wright must love that name.)
Despite the language and some sexual awakenings for Forrest, the film is a redemptive and unforgettable odyssey in which the good and decent are proven more prosperous than the edgy and bitter. The soundtrack is one of the best, providing pitch-perfect musical accompaniment for every decade Forrest encounters (the Doors are well represented), and the three-year running sequence features a spectacular blend of rocking road anthems and stunning cinematography. The quirky narration is one of my favorite elements, with sentences often being repeated by an actor right after they’ve been spoken. Sometimes narration is an unnecessary distraction, but for “meet-‘em-and-move-on” films, it often strengthens the effect of the story, as with Life of Pi and The Shawshank Redemption. Many people doubtless consider Shawshank a better film, which was overshadowed by the popularity of Tom Hanks’ best role in 1994, but though Shawshank is more mature in tone and subject, and I still love it, Forrest Gump holds a greater variety of incident, special effects, and storytelling and is just more appealing in general. It’s a special film that some may dismiss as glossing over history, but I find more reasons to love it on every viewing. (Did you notice that Forrest’s eyes are closed in every picture he takes? I didn’t till this latest time.)
Best line (a less obvious one): (Bubba) “Anyway, like I was sayin’, shrimp is the fruit of the sea. You can barbecue it, boil it, broil it, bake it, sauté it. Dey’s uh, shrimp-kabobs, shrimp creole, shrimp gumbo. Pan fried, deep fried, stir-fried. There’s pineapple shrimp, lemon shrimp, coconut shrimp, pepper shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp stew, shrimp salad, shrimp and potatoes, shrimp burger, shrimp sandwich. That- that’s about it.”Rank: 60 out of 60
© 2015 S. G. Liput
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