#163) Forrest Gump (1994)
OR “Boomer Has It”
Directed by Robert Zemeckis
Written by Eric Roth. Based on the novel by Winston Groom.
Class of 2011
The Plot: Tom Hanks is Forrest Gump, a well-meaning but simple-minded man from Greenbow, Alabama. While sitting on a bus stop bench in 1981 Georgia, Forrest reminisces about his life. From his upbringing with his strong-willed mother (Sally Field), to a stint as an All-American Football player, to his service in the Vietnam War alongside shrimp enthusiast Bubba (Mykelti Williamson), to his business endeavors with embittered veteran Lt. Dan (Gary Sinise), Forrest has worn lots of shoes. Over the years, Forrest has an intermittent relationship with his childhood friend Jenny (Robin Wright), as well as several brushes with history.
Why It Matters: The NFR praises the film’s special effects, in addition to its approach to recent American history that is definitely open to interpretation.
But Does It Really?: “Forrest Gump” is what would happen if “Being There” had a baby with “We Didn’t Start the Fire”. I watched this movie a lot growing up, and as an adult it holds up pretty well. The special effects and historical touchstones are fun, but the key to this film’s success is a landmark performance by Hanks, and a blank-slate approach to modern Americana that, like “Being There” before it, can represent almost anything you want it to. Most of the boomer references may be lost today, and the metaphors are a tad on the nose (Don’t get me started on that damn feather), but ultimately “Forrest Gump” is still an endearing modern classic, with a cultural impact the NFR can’t deny.
Shout Outs: Among the quick cultural references throughout the film are NFR entries “The Graduate”, “Rosemary’s Baby”, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”, and “Midnight Cowboy”. Added bonus: digitally altered footage from “The Birth of a Nation”.
Everybody Gets One: The major one is Gary Sinise, plus Haley Joel Osment, though I suspect his other famous film can’t be too far behind.
Wow, That’s Dated: Early CG is really starting to stick out in ‘90s films. It’s especially noticeable in “Gump” when they’re manipulating dead historical figures (LBJ looks like a Conan O’Brien “Clutch Cargo” sketch gone awry).
Seriously, Oscars?: As the L.A. Times predicted leading up to the 1994 Oscars, “When in doubt, go with ‘Gump’”. And the Academy did just that: “Forrest Gump” received 13 nominations (the leading film that year) and won seven, including Best Picture, Director, Adapted Screenplay, and Actor for Tom Hanks – his second consecutive win. The most surprising (but understanding) of its losses was Alan Silvestri’s iconic score losing to the equally iconic work of Hans Zimmer for “The Lion King”. The “Gump” sweep was inevitable, but did screw over fellow NFR entries “Pulp Fiction” and “The Shawshank Redemption”.
- Nothing about the original novel by Winston Groom reads as “Oscar Winning Classic”. Forrest has a cruder personality in the book and his physical appearance is more along the lines of Lenny from “Of Mice and Men”. As for the episodic adventures that didn’t make this adaptation, let’s just say there’s an orangutan in one of them. Eric Roth earned the hell out of his Oscar.
- As far as metaphors for life go, a box of chocolates is…pretty lame. It sounds great, but what the hell does that mean? Even the assorted boxes give you a general idea of what you get.
- This film proves how strong Tom Hanks’ goodwill is: He dresses up like a Klansman for one scene and we gave him a second Oscar.
- Whatever happened to Jenny’s sisters? They’re mentioned once and then never again. Where were they during all of this?
- Welp, I have now seen almost all of Tom Hanks. I can never un-see that.
- Forrest and Jenny are contemporaries, but Tom Hanks has 10 years on Robin Wright. Hanks plays his correct age in the bench scenes, Wright is closest during Jenny’s time in L.A.
- Mykelti Williamson, bless you. If you’re going to be associated with one performance, Bubba is a winner.
- Tom Hanks tends to lose his Forrest Gump accent whenever he screams.
- Did Forrest ever notice that Lt. Dan looks a lot like Gov. George Wallace?
- This film’s stance on Vietnam is pretty vague. The war is a thing that happened that was…bad? It’s certainly the most accessible of filmdom’s Vietnams.
- Do you kids know who Abbie Hoffman was?
- Jenny better get used to spending time in our nation’s capital.
- Just a reminder that Dick Cavett appears in not one, but two Best Picture Oscar winners. Carry on.
- “If you’re ever a shrimp boat captain, that’s the day I’m respected Apollo 16 crew member Ken Mattingly!” Boy this movie was prescient.
- Free Bird!
- Aged-up Sally Field isn’t too drastically different from 24-years-older Sally Field. Well done, make-up team.
- Forrest says the shrimping business made him “more money than Davy Crockett”. Was Crockett known for being wealthy? Did he get a cut of the coonskin cap sales?
- Between this and “Cast Away”, Zemeckis loves making Tom Hanks grow his beard out to biblical proportions.
- My favorite shot in the entire film is Forrest watching the sunset while aboard his shrimping boat. It’s practically a painting.
- Winston Groom wrote a sequel to the book in 1995. “Gump & Co.” follows Forrest through the ‘80s as he meets President Reagan, gets roped into insider trading on Wall Street, inadvertently causes the fall of the Berlin Wall, and runs into the guy from “Big”. A film adaptation currently languishes in development hell.
- Robert Zemeckis made a few more Oscar-bait movies before spending most of the 2000s in the Uncanny Valley.
- I have been to the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company here in San Francisco. I did very well at the trivia portion, but could not remember the names of Cunning Carla or Long Limbs Lenore. The food was fine too, I guess.
- Lt. Dan has inspired the name of Gary Sinise’s U.S.O. band, as well as a flavor of ice cream.
- Weird Al’s “Gump” is a fun ‘90s throwback (except for the part where he slut-shames Jenny).
- Everyone has spoofed this movie. Everyone. Just Google it.
Further Viewing: Another “Premake”, this time featuring James Stewart as Forrest, Marlon Brando as Lt. Dan, and Babe Ruth!
Listen to This: Not since “The Big Chill” has a film had such a Baby Boomer soundtrack. Of all of the track listings, the National Recording Registry has selected “Fortunate Son” by Creedence Clearwater Revival and “Respect” by Aretha Franklin.