Forrest Gump: The Curious Case of an Alabama Simpleton

THE WORLD WILL NEVER BE THE SAME ONCE YOU’VE SEEN IT THROUGH THE EYES OF FORREST GUMP.

forrestgumpI never did think about Forrest Gump when I saw The Curious Case of Benjamin Button a few months ago, but many others did and one of them even produced a trailer of his own showing the similarities between the movies. It comes as no surprise that Eric Roth wrote both screenplays, bending his adaptations of novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Winston Groom to make them fit a formula. Derided by some as one of the worst films ever to win the Best Picture Oscar, Forrest Gump also managed to move a lot of people and it did showcase director Robert Zemeckis’s talents as a filmmaker. He’s the one who makes this elephant of a film move as smoothly as a cat.

The film begins on a day in Georgia, with a feather floating through the air and landing at the feet of our hero, Forrest (Tom Hanks). He’s sitting on a bench, waiting for the bus, and starts talking to a woman next to him. He tells her about his upbringing in Alabama, how his mother (Sally Field) went to extraordinary lengths to get him into a normal school in spite of his slight intellectual disability, and how he got to know Jenny, a sweet girl who became his only friend. As Forrest grew up he had a tendency to land himself in special circumstances and meet the great personalities of his era. He could run real fast, so he became a star player for a local college football team, even resulting in his shaking hands with President Kennedy. He happened to be there when Governor George Wallace tried to stop the federal authorities from integrating the University of Alabama. He went to Vietnam, was awarded the Medal of Honor, became a ping pong champ in China, accidentally triggered the Watergate scandal, etc. But he never forgot Jenny, the girl he loved, even when she left him to have her own life.

Touching without becoming too schmaltzy
The film goes through most important, iconic events from the late 1950s to the 1980s, with Forrest never really understanding what he’s part of; in Vietnam his version is that the platoon is looking “for some guy called Charlie”. The filmmakers plant classic American songs on the soundtrack to reinforce the feeling of the specific era, but they also use special effects in an ingenious way – thanks to modern technology Forrest appears in old newsreels talking to Kennedy and shaking his hand. Even though the filmmakers at times needlessly state obvious, well-known facts about the events portrayed, this journey through the history of modern America has a nice sense of humor and provides touching moments without becoming too schmaltzy (at least in my view). The heart of the film is of course Forrest himself and his relationship with the troubled Jenny; there’s also great irony in the fact that the person everybody pities, including Jenny, is the one who has the most rewarding, amazing life. Hanks, who won an Oscar for the second year in a row for his performance, is charmingly innocent and wide-eyed as Forrest, a simple man who stays decent in spite of all the evil and hurt surrounding him. He is more than ably supported by Gary Sinise as the bitter vet who reluctantly becomes a friend and Robin Wright as the restless Jenny.

The contributions of cinematographer Don Burgess and composer Alan Silvestri are sentimental and beautiful; when young Forrest starts running and his leg braces fall off, the music is so stirring one is prepared to join him. The movie succeeds against the odds, much like The World According to Garp (1982). In lesser hands, this ambitious, flawed, silly behemoth would have fallen flat on its face, but Zemeckis and his cast and crew keep control of it and create a few moments of magic.

Forrest Gump 1994-U.S. 142 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Steve Tisch, Steve Starkey, Wendy Finerman. Directed by Robert Zemeckis. Screenplay: Eric Roth. Novel: Winston Groom. Cinematography: Don Burgess. Music: Alan Silvestri. Editing: Arthur Schmidt. Visual Effects: Ken Ralston, and others. Cast: Tom Hanks (Forrest Gump), Robin Wright (Jenny Curran), Gary Sinise (Dan Taylor), Sally Field, Mykelti Williamson, Michael Humphreys… Haley Joel Osment.

Trivia: Bill Murray and Chevy Chase were allegedly considered for the part of Gump; Barry Sonnenfeld and Terry Gilliam for directing duties.

Oscars: Best Picture, Director, Actor (Hanks), Adapted Screenplay, Film Editing, Visual Effects. BAFTA: Best Special Effects. Golden Globes: Best Motion Picture, Director, Actor (Hanks).

Quote: “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates, never know what you’re gonna get.” (Hanks)

Last word: “People would ask me what I was working on and I’d say ‘Forrest Gump’. And they’d get that glazed look. I knew they were thinking, ‘When is she going to give up?’ There was something magical about the book and even though I knew it would be an expensive and difficult movie to make, for nine years I always believed it was going to happen.” (Finerman, TCM)

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