I had one goal in mind when starting this little rant: to take down a recent American classic. I wanted to shred something so beloved that I may even come off as a rotten dick. Off the top of my head, I first thought of Forrest Gump. Seemed easy enough.
I thought for a few minutes about all the movies my relatives have fallen in love with in the last few years. Denzel’s leaky-eyed courtroom confession of alcoholism in Flight is Hollywood firing on all cylinders. Such perfectly contrived garbage. I can’t not laugh. Interstellar’s lame exposition and gooey morals was enough to even make my polite, yin-to-my-yang girlfriend laugh out loud in the theater. She normally shushes me, for good reason. It’s not nice to mock. But walking out of the theater still laughing at the shitshow on screen was a bonding moment. And I almost felt bad for ridiculing my actor friend, Joshua Burge, while he wiped his eyes during Beasts of the Southern Wild’s many violin-soaked climaxes. Almost.
Dropping back to the ‘90s for a few minutes, I came up with other obvious targets. But it’s difficult to goof on Titanic. Celine Dion has already said everything that can be said. Morgan Freeman’s voiceover in Shawshank Redemption is a punchline by now. As a testament to its staying power, half of that movie is now a cliché. I’m not crazy enough to even consider messing with Schindler’s List, and I’m also not nearly as sharp as Spielberg, so I wouldn’t take on his older movies, either. E.T. and Raiders do no wrong. I love everything about time travel and Crispin Glover, so Back to the Future will never be on my Lame List. Robert Zemekis knows what he’s doing (the bullshit that is Flight notwithstanding). Which brought me back to the original motivator – 1994’s mega hit, Forrest Gump. I sat for a minute, thinking about Gump and trying to connect the box of chocolate dots of how it all unfolds. I’m not even going to bother laying out the full story because it would sound too silly, and if you haven’t seen it by now, then nevermind. It’s one big love letter. To everything. I remembered the people in the theater yanking Kleenexes out of their pockets as that little kid ran from the bullies until his leg braces fell off, feeling a sense of freedom for the first time in his young life. I thought about every single person in my family smiling as that dummy shows LBJ his bullet-shot buttocks and telling JFK that he had to take a piss. I’m pretty sure we watched it in a journalism class in high school, and my teacher broke out into applause as Gump and Jenny reunite in the Washington Monument duck bath.
I knew I could rip that mushy junk a new one. But after replaying those few scenes in my head and thinking back on that killer cajun shrimp basket I once ordered at a Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant while visiting my grandparents in Florida, I decided I didn’t want to. I started to think that I might be a sucker, too. Maybe I kind of really like Forrest Gump. It’s one of the few movies that would make me join a pro-CGI rally. It’s technology that’s grounded in realism, easily holding up after twenty years, whereas Shia Lebouf swinging on vines with the monkeys in the atrocious Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull didn’t hold up after twenty seconds.
It’s borderline surreal and absurdist, dropping Gump into nearly every major historical event throughout his life. And, as blasphemous and ignorant as it may sound, it almost reminds me a little of one of my very favorite movies, O Lucky Man!, changing tone and throwing you into a new scenario every twenty minutes. I realize Zemekis is no Lindsay Anderson, but I get off on narrative that is constantly shifting pace, tone, and setting. And to Zemekis’s credit, the film winks in a way that smooths everything over. Just when you’re about to laugh at it, you’re kind of laughing with it. I certainly don’t tear up at the death of his poor old Flying Nun mom or lil’ Forrest shaking hands with pop for the first time. But I feel a little something, and that’s more effect than most movies ever have on me. Gump is almost dopey to a fault. We’re never allowed to judge him or feel anything other than admiration. He’s not sharp enough to even understand what cynicism means, and that’s why we love him so much. He’s a little boy learning how his wiener works. As much as the term “guilty pleasure” can suck it, I do feel a little embarrassed stating on record that it’s pretty awesome. High school Joel would’ve made fun of me. My DP, Adam, would probably say something totally stupid like, “Joel’s a chump for Gump.” But the older I get, the more I get sucked into the movie every time it’s on TBS.
Still, I don’t love it enough to drain two hours re-watching it. It’s been probably fifteen years since I watched it from beginning to end. So, this half-assed dissection is simply coming from foggy, sappy emo-memories. There’s a big chance I’d hate it today if I was again surrounded by whimpering adults cheering on that loveable dope. I probably should’ve watched it again for this article, but my Netflix queue is like a box of chocolates, so I opted to watch Troma’s Farts of Darkness instead.