Eric Roth (Novel by Winston Groom)
Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, Sally Field
PG-13 (For drug content, some sensuality and war violence)
Proving that you don’t have to be a genius to become a success, Forrest Gump explores the life of an incredibly lucky simpleton.
From childhood, Forrest Gump was always picked on and looked up on with derision. Whether it was being chased down a dirt road with rocks being pelted at him or getting the cold shoulder on the school bus when looking for a seat, Forrest had a difficult time. His saving grace was his low IQ which led him to believe the best in all people, even if they mistreated him. As he grew up, he continued to face such challenges until he proved himself. Though this didn’t stop all forms of prejudice, it nonetheless reduced their impact.
Everyman actor Tom Hanks plays the dullard Gump as an adult from his days shipping off to Vietnam all the way to his role as father. Hanks gives a performance and it’s obvious. Other than a string of successful mannerisms and speech patterns, there isn’t a significant amount of depth in the character. That is partially because the character is so simple-minded, but even Dustin Hoffman was able to create significant depth out of mental deficiencies in Rain Man. The performances of this film are given by Robin Wright as Forrest’s romantic interest Jenny and Gary Sinise as his Vietnam platoon commander Lt. Dan.
As Forrest grows up, his fictionalized story places him in or near every major historical event of the 1950s through early 1980s. He supposedly teaches Elvis how to gyrate, gave the man who created the smiley-face t-shirt his inspiration, told John F. Kennedy he had to pee and even handed a dropped book to a black girl going into an Alabama school house for the first time. The disturbing part of this is that in several of these scenes, the original participant in these events is removed so that the fictitious character could take their place. That this is disrespectful to the memory of these persons, is a significant detriment in the film.
The visual effects that created these moments was impressive, though it can also be blamed for the rise of those annoying commercials where long-dead celebrities are pulled from their films to hock the latest vacuum or other commercial product.
The film itself is hampered by the screenplay by Eric Roth adapted from Winston Groom’s novel. The story is a very loose collection of anecdotes and events held tenuously together by a pedestrian plot. Forrest Gump is so gimmicky that it’s almost difficult to enjoy.
Director Robert Zemeckis did far better with the film Back to the Future and would do significantly better with the 1997 film Contact. His work here is nothing remotely special and even irritating at times. When in Vietnam, he foregoes the dark and ominous feel that was perfected in films like Platoon in favor of a slightly glossy and marginally realistic depiction of that conflict. It’s only meant to paint Gump as a hero but without the connection to reality, it’s as fantastic as any part of the story.
Which leads to one significant point. Are we supposed to believe that all of this is just a story from a simpleton or that it really occurred? Although the prospect of the entire film being a fantasy in Forrest’s head is an attractive one and would give the film more narrative impact and import, it is not the case. We are assured of this fact shortly after a large man leaves the park bench after having listened to the story proclaims his disbelief that he actually founded the Bubba Gump shrimp company. Forrest displays for the audience and his new bench mate a magazine picturing him alongside Lt. Dan in an article about their company. This one scene destroys any chance that the more interesting plot was the actual one.
Forrest Gump is still an entertaining film, though one of little importance. It hollowly reiterates the idea that no one should be demeaned for being different. There’s nothing more than competently compelling in the picture, but audiences will nevertheless be drawn in by its generic sympathies.
January 8, 2007