By Melissa Houghton
Do you remember the ABC TV comedy Bosom Buddies? It was my introduction to actor Tom Hanks as Kip Wilson, a struggling New York City ad writer who resorts to cross-dressing alongside his buddy to live at the only apartment they can afford, the female-only Susan B. Anthony Hotel. The series aired from 1980 – 1982. Bosom Buddies lost some steam after two seasons, but it was funny, warm and engaging, mainly due to Hanks’ comedic talents. Hanks moved onto the big screen from there. He’s one of the few television actors to successfully cross over to film from the small screen.
The premise of Bosom Buddies was an homage to Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hot (1959), and the male counterparts to the creator’s female buddy show, Laverne and Shirley. Laverne was played by Penny Marshall (1943-2018). Marshall directed Hanks in his second fantasy-comedy movie and her second feature, Big (1988).
Hanks portrayed Josh Baskin and this role is ranked #15 on Premiere magazine’s 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006). Not bad for a guy who had no acting experience in college – in fact, he could not get cast in a college play. He credits this bad luck with starting his career. He auditioned for a community theatre play and was invited by the director of that play to go to Cleveland where his acting career started, and it skyrocketed from there. With the success of Big, it established Hanks as a major Hollywood talent. For his performance in Big, Hanks earned his first Academy Award nomination for Best Actor.
Big: Josh is smaller than most 13-year old teenage-boy and is constantly bullied. During a visit to the local carnival, he finds a fortune-telling machine (Zoltar Speaks) and he wishes himself to be big. His wish comes true to be ‘big’ when he wakes up the next morning to discover he’s changed into a 30-year old man. He runs away from home to find Zoltar to become a kid again. Along his journey to find Zoltar Josh discovers that being an adult is not so easy.
Hanks as Josh is terrific in the role, he has a knack for becoming his character. He’s awkward in his new body and inexperienced in all aspects of his new-found adulthood. He’s wide-eyed, insecure, scared and innocent at first. Then, we watch Hanks turn into a self-assured and responsible man. Hanks is brilliant as he subtly shifts into his new life as an adult. His posture and demeanour changes; he stands taller and exudes confidence as he blossoms into manhood – all the while we see his development as he gains new perspectives; both professionally and romantically.
Hanks/Josh’s relationship with his best friend Billy (Jared Rushton) feels genuine and honest. Hanks lives fully in the moment during their best-buddy interactions – the code words, gestures, child-like antics, right down to sharing their disgust at the idea of kissing girls. It’s magical to see Hanks resurrect his inner child to perfectly play the part and be believable. He embraces all the uncertainty and newness of everything at this stage in his life, as a boy in a man’s body, with profound sweetness. Hanks became a young teenage boy.
Initially, it’s his best friend Billy who is the brains, and he helps Josh find a place to live and coaches him on finding a job. Josh lands a room at the St. James Hotel in New York City, a seedy place where ladies of the night operate, and he gets a job in the mailroom next lands a job as a toy-company executive.
Hanks is entirely believable as he goes through all these life discoveries. His responses to his colleagues are from the life perspective of a child. It’s funny to watch them reacting to Josh as an adult unbeknownst to them he’s a child in a man’s body. He seems profound and wise and is quickly promoted from the mailroom to test toys and then goes on to design an interactive video game from the perspective of a boy who knows what will make the game fun. Josh visits FAO Schwartz to play when the president of the company, Mr. MacMillan (the late Robert Loggia) finds him there, and in one of the movie’s most iconic scenes, they play “Heart and Soul” and “Chopsticks” on the floor piano.
Josh learns to court a girl, his executive colleague Susan (Elizabeth Perkins), and turns out to be more grown-up than her ex-boyfriend Paul (the late John Heard), who she dumps, to date Josh.
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If you’re thinking this is about all of his work, it’s not. It’s simply a moment to recognize Tom Hanks for his ability to become and the opportunity to applaud him for channeling with the purest expression those moments in time when life is or should be, simple, free, open and happy. We wish this for ourselves and our loved ones, at least I do.
Hanks has collected several Oscars since his Big lost, but it’s this breakout role in my opinion that cements his place as a leading talent and influencer in film and television.
Coming up next: A Beautiful Day In the Neighborhood (2019) (release date November 22). Hanks portrays Mister (Fred) Rogers, the story of Rogers’ real-life friendship with journalist Tom Junod.
Trivia: The fortune-telling machine Zoltar Speaks is featured in a recent Liberty Mutual Insurance commercial. On my visit to FAO Schwartz in 2015, I watched a mom and daughter playing a tune together on the floor piano. Although Hanks was nominated for Big, the 1989 Best Actor Oscar award went to Dustin Hoffman for his role in Rain Man (1988)
Childhood memories of sitting with hushed audiences in dark theatres – before, during and sometimes after a shocking conclusion, shaped Melissa’s love of movies. Her passion for film spans many genres and go-to’s are Indies, Sci-fi and Costume dramas. An image of Audrey Hepburn as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Ladyexplains her life-long love of hats. Melissa works in marketing by day. She feels the arts saved her life and is a devoted year-round and festival volunteer for several arts and cultural organizations. She’s been a Toronto International Film Festival volunteer since 2003. Melissa recently fulfilled a wish to join the Sundance Film Festival volunteer roster and has a desire to meet Robert Redford. Melissa will be returning to Sundance for her fifth straight year in 2019. During this Sundance working-vacation, Melissa volunteers on the Artist Relations Box Office team as Box Office Associate. Melissa’s desert island picks are Alien, The Godfather, The Witches of Eastwick, Little Miss Sunshine and My Fair Lady. Melissa’s focus will be independent films. By the way, she has not met Robert Redford, yet.