Bad Movies We Love: Forrest Gump
Happy Oscar nominations, babies. You got what you wanted, though you have to throw those gold-plated, NSFW Andrew Garfield valentines in the trash. It could be worse. You could be living in 1994, when the Academy honored not Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, or my darling Quiz Show with a Best Picture victory, but a staggering sh*t fortress of offensive "whimsicality" called Forrest Gump. You saw it. It's dumb. Loony. It's got a lot of nerve. But here's a secret you and I share: We're both attracted to bastards, and Forrest Gump's the slimiest john I know. Let's love it.
Synopsis: Tom Hanks plays Forrest Gump, a man with an IQ of 75 who assures the world that in order to be an inspiring mentally challenged person, you need only to act like Winnie the Pooh. Point to your head and say, "Think, think, think." Cock your head when others are speaking. Don't understand when you're playing a football game. These things.
The movie takes us on a journey as Forrest reexamines his life from early childhood through adolescence and on to college, Vietnam, the shrimping business, and an on-again, off-again romance with a childhood friend named Jenny. As Forrest narrates his own story to strangers on a park bench, he remembers lessons from his dear mother (Sally Field), whose own mental handicap forces her to invent Southern catchphrases all the time. "Life is like a box of chocolates," she claims. "And I'm an unhinged hyperglycemic. FORREST, GIVE ME THE CHOCOLATES." Not really.
Here's the key to loving Forrest Gump: Our hero's life includes run-ins with war, the Black Panther movement, several presidential assassinations, drug culture, and AIDS, yet the movie manages to have nothing to say about them -- other than, "This cloying cipher doesn't really get it. Cute as hell. Shhh, those angry black people can learn from him." Every opportunity to reinspect history is a red herring. This movie is a red herring. This movie is like some direct-to-video sequel of Being There called Bein' Everywharr!, and Chauncey the Gardener is replaced by one of the Rugrats in a Tom Wolfe suit. This movie honestly wants you to gawk at its glib, twee (your two favorite adjectives) instincts, forgo common sense, and melt into its outrageous story. Word: It's not that hard. I just did it!
Let's take a look at some of the zestier accomplishments in Forrest's life.
When a bunch of bullies approach Forrest on the street, Forrest's damaged friend Jenny (Robin Wright[-Penn]) encourages him to run as fast as he can. Now, Forrest starts the movie in rigid leg braces, but no matter: He turns into Forrest Griffith-Joyner (ya-pow!) in seconds, the leg braces tumble off his body, and he's cured. In high school, when bullies follow him in a jeep, he outruns the jeep. If this Jenny can detect who among the physically disabled can heal their handicap and outpace a Cherokee, she deserves more than these Curious George books she's reading.
He plays college football and nails 99-yard touchdowns with his nimble little gams. The crowd cheers, cries, and holds up signs telling him to stop running once he hits the end zone. This condescending malarkey precedes Susan Boyle by 15 years, so I can't discredit Forrest Gump's soothsaying powers. It's like the new Network that way. Except Faye Dunaway is too subtle for this movie. For real.
He saves his lieutenant's life in Vietnam. But war-proud Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise) didn't want to be saved, and he resents Forrest afterward -- until they start up a shrimping company together and fulfill the dream of their fallen comrade Bubba. Lieutenant Dan pulls off the Helter Skelter zeal well. Which makes sense because this is ThE SeVeNtIeS!!1!
He gets real good at ping pong and it... heals international disputes with China? I don't even know what Rob Zemeckis was going for here. Whatever happened, it allowed Forrest to meet the president -- an occurrence he enjoys a million times this movie.
Holler, LBJ! Bad news: Forrest Gump isn't a real person, so to make his interactions with super-for-real presidents for-real, the movie uses special effects to manipulate stock footage of our great leaders and make their mouths look like they're saying droll things to Forrest. It looks freaky. LBJ's twitchy CGI mouth looks like lost footage from the "Sledgehammer" video. At this point, it's clear Forrest can zap himself to any notable moment in history whenever he wants. You might know this movie by its original working title, Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego?. (Or Zelig Gump.)
Forrest gets on The Dick Cavett Show, mumbles something about religion and heaven, and fellow guest John Lennon is -- Jesus, this movie -- inspired to write a jingle called "Imagine." John Lennon would love Forrest's absently cutesy shtick. He so would. John Lennon was annoying sometimes, and at least this movie understands that.
After a tedious sideplot where Forrest runs back and forth across the country for no reason and ratchets up this movie's run-time to 2.2 hours, he reunites with the tempestuous Jenny, who secretly had his child and contracted an unknown "virus." Look, Jenny: Having a troubled past and an abusive father gives you no right to ruin Forrest's good time. Or die of AIDS when you've given us two scenes notice. Not fair. You will not score an Oscar nomination with that gig. They'll give it to Andie MacDowell or Joan Plowright or someone else who eats up screen time with major headtilt seriousness. Or worse, they'll soon give Sean Penn two Oscars. Yeah, now you're awake, Robin.
There you have it. That's our movie. Forrest fathers his new-found son, and by the time the credits roll, I remember that Forrest has muttered his mother's favorite phrase "Stupid is as stupid does" at least a dozen times. And why is that? Because it's a message to home-viewers that they're the ones sitting through this insipid sequence of daydreams. "Stupid is as stupid does" is easily decipherable code for "I'm not the one watching this movie. You are." I hear you loud and clear, Forrest: The smart ones flee. But us? We're placated in our leg braces, drifting like a whimsical albatross feather into your void. Run, dear reader. Run. Or stay. With the rest of us.