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With: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson, Sally Field, Michael Conner Humphreys, Hanna R. Hall
Written by: Eric Roth, based on a novel by Winston Groom
Directed by: Robert Zemeckis
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for drug content, some sensuality and war violence
Running Time: 142
Date: 06/23/1994

Forrest Gump (1994)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Boxing Chocolates

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I have written elsewhere that Forrest Gump is my least favorite movie ever made. To tell the truth, that's a bit of hyperbole. It was an extreme reaction to a movie that became a phenomenon. If the movie had been a flop, I might have given it the rating it deserves, and the rating I'm giving it now, two stars out of four. Far from the worst movie ever made. (As of this writing, August 16, 2013, the worst movie I ever saw came out just a few months back. It's called InAPPropriate Comedy. If you don't believe me, see for yourself, though I don't recommend it.)

Just today I tried Googling my name (who hasn't done this?) and discovered that "Forrest Gump" automatically comes up next to it. People have been trying to figure out just why I'm so against this movie, and I have never written a proper review, mainly because I saw it just before I became a professional critic and simply never bothered to write one. However, rather than write a straightforward review, I'm simply going to address my concerns with the movie, one by one.

1) Stupidity. Many people have written about Forrest's lack of intelligence, and how, because the movie became a huge hit, Americans were celebrating stupidity. That's not the problem I have. To me, Forrest is not stupid. Most people are smart in certain ways, and even Forrest has a certain amount of wisdom. The greater crime, and Forrest's crime, is ignorance. Not asking questions, and never learning anything, is far worse than just being "stupid." Forrest goes through all of the movie's political and economic segments doing exactly what's expected of him, and he never asks why. He fights in Vietnam, and he consumes, and never questions. Conversely, Jenny protests the Vietnam war and winds up contracting AIDS. She's punished for thinking and being active. Forrest is passive. He's never even shown being passionate about what he's doing. If he plays ping pong or runs, he's doing it almost by accident. That would be fine, if the movie were aware of this conundrum, but the movie itself fails to ask the same questions. It celebrates Forrest's ignorance, rewards him, and makes him into a hero.

2) Politics. Many movies have a political agenda, but it seems that Forrest Gump is practically right-wing propaganda. I honestly don't mind propaganda movies in general; some of the Die Hard movies are right-wing, and I love those. Many of the GOP's ideals are represented in Forrest Gump, but in very sinister ways. The movie has a mistrust for education and learning, for one, and it promotes "pulling oneself up by one's bootstraps." Gump betters himself, to be sure, even though he never actually does anything active to accomplish this. The movie also works like a marketing machine, suggesting that selling and consuming -- shrimp, a jogging craze, etc. -- is the healthiest thing for our country. (Life in America is less like eating a box of chocolates than it is like packaging and selling one.) It's a series of distractions, meant to deflect any real issues that might be looming.

3) Treatment of women. As mentioned above, Jenny is shown questioning and thinking, and is punished for her activities. Likewise, Forrest's mother is forced to have sex with men to get Forrest into school and get him ahead in the world. These atrocities are more or less covered up or ignored by the film's overall celebratory, feel-good mood.

4) Friendship and financial reward. Many, many movies, going back to Charles Chaplin's great The Gold Rush, end with the hero gaining financial reward. But Forrest Gump tends to equate friendship with financial reward, i.e. the shrimp company as well as the "Apple" joke. If you put your trust in Forrest, and put up with him, you'll be rich. There's just something slightly disturbing about this.

5) Fable. The movie has been called a "fable," and though this term is often used incorrectly, it is more or less used correctly here. A fable is the story of how things came to be, although they are usually told with talking animals. Forrest Gump tells the story of how the Watergate scandal began, how the "Have a nice day" craze began, etc. However, again, director Robert Zemeckis' approach more or less ignores the idea of a fable. Some things in the movie are fanciful and magical, and others are deadly realistic and gruesome, and the tone never settles between the two. Zemeckis can't seem to accept the non-realistic, and tries to force everything in the opposite direction. It's another conundrum the movie simply, frustratingly avoids.

6) Tom Hanks. In the past I have harshly criticized Tom Hanks, though this is mostly because I like him and I believe he is misusing his potential. He's a natural-born comic actor with a lot of charm and warmth. No one else could have pulled off something like Big (1988), for which he received an Oscar nomination. Sadly, this nomination encouraged him to be "more serious," moving into unbearably earnest and totally uninteresting directions. He has closed off a certain, true part of himself to play these noble roles. And worse, he has been rewarded for it, as with Forrest Gump. Happily, he occasionally has been able to return to us in certain roles, notably the voice of "Woody" in the Toy Story films, and in Steven Spielberg's terrific Catch Me If You Can.

7) Robert Zemeckis. Again, I generally like Zemeckis' work, for the same reasons. On a certain scale, he's amazing at creating brisk, funny, smooth, lightweight rides. It's hard to argue against Romancing the Stone, Back to the Future and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the latter of which is one of my favorite films of all time. I even liked Zemeckis' Flight for many of the same reasons. But he, too, tried to be more "serious," ignoring his God-given instincts, making not only Forrest Gump, but the unbearable Cast Away and a series of lifeless, soulless mo-cap animated movies. Imagine what a more thoughtful director could have done with Gump (think Being There), and imagine how many terrific, pure entertainments we have missed because Zemeckis was so handsomely rewarded for making this movie.

8) Eric Roth. Screenwriter Roth won an Oscar for adapting Winston Groom's novel, and much of the blame can be placed on this flat, thoughtless script as on Zemeckis' direction. Roth is a troublesome writer. His next effort, The Postman, was equally ambitious and equally misguided. Yet Roth has written some very good scripts, like The Insider and Munich. A few years back, he tried to imitate Gump's length and feel with the equally obnoxious The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. There must be something about that approach; Benjamin Button also received a bunch of Oscar nominations.

9) Box office and Oscars. Here's the sticky part. To be clear, Forrest Gump is a perfectly competent movie. It's professionally made, edited, scored, and acted. It looks and sounds good. Its major failure is one of morals and ideas, and the fact that so many, many people did not seem to notice or care, is what really flummoxed me. It made me hate the movie way out of proportion. Many of the things it celebrates and condemns seem so terribly, terribly wrong, and the embracing of these things by the entire country was, frankly, a little scary. The movie made $329 million, was the highest grossing movie of the year, and is currently the 28th highest grossing movie of all time. It was nominated for 13 Oscars, one shy of tying the all-time record. It won six awards, including Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actor. I know that Forrest Gump is still considered a beloved classic, but it beat out two other movies that year, both of which I believe are held in even higher esteem: The Shawshank Redemption and Pulp Fiction.

Believe me, I know how much this movie means to many people out there. They find tremendous, and positive, power in it. And if you don't think too much about it -- which is what the filmmakers want -- you can walk away from it feeling very good. As for me, I think it's healthy to ask questions, to understand why a thing is what it is. This review is just my way of asking.

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