I have a good excuse. When Forrest Gump came out in 1994 and conquered the world I was an undergraduate at New York University’s film school. I was, to put it bluntly, at my apogee of cinematic snobbishness. I was gobbling up my ABCs (Antonioni, Bergman and Cassavetes) and when I went out to see contemporary work, it was low-budget, independent material from directors like Jim Jarmusch, Hal Hartley and Gregg Araki. Forrest Gump was not on my radar.
It was rare that I’d see something wide-release, and if I did it was done ironically. “We want a bus! Show us a bus!” my obnoxious friends and I chanted as we sat down to see Speed. When the opening sequence began, I shouted: “We were promised a bus, not an elevator!” and someone shushed me. Rightly.
So there was no way in hell I was going to see Forrest Gump. Especially when it won the Academy Award over Pulp Fiction, and became all that was wrong with our culture – confirmed by the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant that soon opened in the newly neutered Times Square.
But things change. Three years ago I was in Florida and hungry for dinner, and the only restaurant without a waiting list was a Bubba Gump’s. The jambalaya was actually very good.
And when Tom Hanks recently announced that he and Rita Wilson had tested positive for coronavirus, I realised how much I loved him. His performances are always great and his public persona as a typewriter-loving Dad joke-spewer has brought me great joy. Learning that Hanks had Covid-19 took the illness out of abstraction and gave it a familiar face. Then came an internal voice: Call yourself a Tom Hanks fan? You haven’t even seen his most famous film!
So now I am about to press play …
Oh, Christ, that was truly awful.
The whole thing, from first frame to the last, was really rough. And even a bit offensive. I get annoyed when people criticise movies from the 1940s for being politically incorrect, but for something as recent as 1994 Forrest Gump is one sexist film.
Is Robin Wright’s character Jenny anything other than a White Knight’s wet dream? A poor girl in desperate need of saving who, unlike Forrest, goes out into the world and ends up as a tossed-around plaything who eventually dies of Aids? Oh, if only she’d stayed down on the farm to let American exceptionalism do its thing! She would have just lucked into enormous wealth, like Forrest did.
Maybe I’m overthinking it, but the mind has to go somewhere during this movie. If it stays focused on the screen, you might throw up. I don’t know what’s more cringeworthy, the “Run, Forrest, run!” scene(s), seeing Forrest teaching Elvis to dance (and inspiring John Lennon to write Imagine), or the rolling assault of on-the-nose needle-drops during the Vietnam sequence.
Cultural osmosis had pre-familiarised me with the broad strokes of this beloved comedy, but I did not know that there were violent “action scenes” involving napalm and machine guns. That came as a surprise.
Another surprise was meeting the Bubba (of Bubba Gump restaurant fame). I didn’t realise he was killed by the Viet Cong. What the hell kind of family restaurant is that place? Gary Sinese’s Lt Dan is the only truly good thing about this movie. His character’s adjustment to being a double amputee is a far more compelling story than the one given the spotlight.
Plus, it’s real acting, not whatever the hell it is Hanks is doing with those wacky faces and cartoonish accent. Yeah, I know he won the Oscar, but other than the scene at Jenny’s grave (which was touching, I grant you) how far a distance is it between Forrest Gump and any early Adam Sandler character?
I’d say it’s about six feet – the distance we’ve been told to maintain to steer clear of Covid-19, that wretched disease that pushed me to finally watching Forrest Gump. Truly a pox on the world.