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.


  • Citizen Bitch says:

    well i see the "Bad Movie" part, but where is the "We Love?"

  • Patrick McEvoy-Halston says:

    It's there at the beginning, Citizen Bitch, but yes, I think "Forrest Gump" is one of those works of art that if you are too much concerned to explain why you like it, were/are affected/moved by it, you're stained for life. Just to mind as another example, is when some Salon writer a number of years ago "explained" why she had once fallen for Piers Anthony's Xanth series: you ended up more aware of the series' "ridiculousness" than its (what remain, thanks to "you") OSTENSIBLE virtues, and you had the sense the writer had braved as much as she was able, mostly in admitting to having liked the series before company she'd normally expect to pull away from her after that: her chore thereafter was to look to have pulled off the feat, but also to have made clear that NO ONE would more shun -- or maybe stomp and kill! -- the fiend who went a smidgen further than she was willing in testifying to its qualities: "you" end up okay, because "you" didn't so much break the dam but remade it anew in territory too riskily befouling for concerned others to consider undertaking the nagging job (and here, discussing "Forrest Gump" was a problem that was nagging -- IT was the one that won the oscar, as well has having as much broad effect as the ongoing hero, "Back to the Future"), AND all the while making the snidish feel themselves open and fair. You may never be a great writer/reviewer, but we remember your sacrifice of yourself into besmirching territory.
    If you mean to do the in-your-world brave and stand up for the likes of Xanth, Titanic, Forrest Gump, Dangerous Mind, it requires an awesome feat of steadily-maintained, artful, protective dweamorcraft to get the job done -- and I don't think I've ever seen it managed, not even by A. O. Scott, who, for example, will often defend Tom Cruise, but NEVER without letting you know the actor doesn't have extensive range (very brave, A.O, very brave: how about just a compliment, and leaving it at? Such things are possible.); if that's too daunting, you just make the praise (as with here) amount to worse than some critiques -- that's safe enough. The whole point is not to really get at why?, be fair to the film and its lasting influence on you, and air it out, but to see if you can manage something akin without being caught out by misstep -- we're all watching -- and it makes for something of an abominably unfair effort, and usually just a resort to curses.
    Personally, I liked the brazenness of Forrest's life being tested but not really affected by "major events" that ARE SUPPOSED to stop you cold, if you care or are human at all: he was allowed to breathe, following his own rhythm. Gene Siskel WAS stopped cold by these events -- Vietnam, John Lennon's death, etc -- but loved the movie for feeling it had helped quit shocks he personally had still been suffering from. There must be something considerable in a film to accomplish something as wonderful as that. (According to Movieline's twitter' feed, Gene Siskel's birthday is today. I think the episode is on YouTube.)

  • zooeyglass1999 says:


  • Louis Virtel says:

    Do I not mention its gall? And that I can't stop watching it, at the end? Zooey, you've been cynical with me recently, and I'm uncomfortable with it.

  • Brian says:

    Forrest Gump is a bad movie? Whenever I read something that absurd I'm reminded that there are people in this world who find Hawaiian shirts to be stylish and think that sharks in tanks of formaldehyde count as art. Virtel has proven to have stunningly bad taste, even for a Movieline writer, and that's saying something.

  • SaltySue says:

    I concur. It is fine to say that it isn't the greatest movie, or that there were more fitting opponents in 1994 for the Best Picture Oscar but Forrest Gump is not a bad movie, especially when there are films like The Blind Side around.

  • bib fortuna says:

    You managed to write a review of Gump without resorting to using the most obvious word to describe it, schmaltz. My hat is off to you sir.

  • sam says:

    Ugh, you sound as old and tired as the people who criticize Nirvana's Nevermind. It was a great movie. It made you feel good and Hanks put on a great show. Did it deserve Best Picture? With Shawshank probably not but whatever, Goodfellas should've won four years earlier.

  • Eric Mansoor says:

    Yes, it's a bad movie. Not horrible bad, but one of those movies you wonder what all the fuss is about. Well, the acting is good, the soundtrack is nice (if a bit heavy-handed at times), and the production values are stellar...but as for the story itself? Blech.