Thursday, April 20, 2017

Better In Your Head?--FORREST GUMP

1986
Winston Groom


"Let me say this: bein an idiot is no box of chocolates."

SPOILER ALERT, it ain't a bouquet of roses either.

Likelier yay than nay, when I ask if you've heard of Forrest Gump. The mental deficient from way down yonder (Mobile, AL, more precisely) with a proper heart and a knack for succeeding and  failing on a grand scale. He's just trying to get along, maybe make his mama stop crying over him so much. Skies brighten when his 6'6" 242-lb. frame land him a spot on his high school football squad. Gump doesn't possess the brainpower to learn plays, but so long as he stops the other 'un's when Coach asks him, and run past the other 'un's when Coach asks him, it really ain't a big deal.

The Army won't take Forrest on account of his low IQ, but the University of Alabama have a spot on the gridiron waiting for the thickly-built simpleton. Gump takes the Crimson Tide to within one busted play of a national championship before being let go for poor grades. The Army comes calling once again, suddenly not so picky, and Forrest is flown out to Vietnam to follow orders. He does so to the tune of a Congressional Medal of Honor for exceptional battlefield bravery.

Back in America, the likable lunkhead hunts down Jenny Curran, the girl who he's crushed mega on since elementary school, in Boston. While he's been off fighting the war, Jenny's been protesting it, compiling a formidable rap sheet along the way. She and Forrest become an item and he joins her rock band, accompanying them on the distinctly un-rock harmonica. A studio in New York beckons…but then the drummer introduces Forrest to weed and the poor bastard gets caught in the middle of a spontaneous threesome.

In order to avoid a prison stint for braining the Clerk of the U.S. Senate with his Medal of Honor, Forrest is sent to NASA, who link him up with a female astronaut and a male orangutan named "Sue" and blast them into space. Their shuttle crashes in South America, where the crew co-exists uneasily alongside cannibals for four years.

While at the University of Alabama, Forrest made the acquaintance of a fella called Bubba, who turned him to not only the joys of harmonica, but also the dream of making it big in the "srimp" business. Bubba died in Vietnam, Forrest right next to him playing the blower, and for all his faults Gump never forgot his friend or his friends ambition. As the book comes near the close, Forrest--with the assistance of virtually every other character he met in the preceding pages--makes Gump Shrimp Company a multi-million dollar enterprise.

Winston Groom had published three unsung novels before Forrest Gump came out and…continued the trend. (Groom's non-fiction did a bit better, with 1982's Conversations With the Enemy garnering attention from the Pulitzer people.) Riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors to indicate the narrator's lack of education (ala Flowers For Algernon), the text moseys along, forcing the reader's inner voice to slow down--or else.

Forrest Gump is not a great novel, but it is a hilariously blunt tale that doubles as a tidy palate cleanser if the resultant film left you feeling as if a mouse took a crap in your mouth while you were napping on the couch.*



1994
Director-Robert Zemeckis
Writer-Eric Roth


"My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."

The wacky adventures of the world's luckiest moron proved irresistible to moviegoers? The hell you tell!

As portrayed by Tom "Jimmy Stewart Lite" Hanks, Forrest Gump is a skinny, crew-cut rocking mama's boy, defender of women, friend to a black guy, business partner with a double amputee, shrimp baron and, above all, a sucka for love-ass honky. He can't do much special other than run like a dumb gazelle. Bullies keep trying, and never do catch up. When Forrest inadvertently streaks across a football field during scrimmage, he passes everyone wearing a uniform. Legendary college coach Bear Bryant is among the spectators, and procures a scholarship for Forrest to play at the University of Alabama.

The Army comes calling, and with the advice of his childhood crush Jenny (the great Robin Wright) stirring the oatmeal between his ears, Forrest runs his way into a butt-bullet and a Congressional Medal of Honor. Although he saves the life of his Lieutenant, and many others in his platoon, his good friend Bubba dies on the battlefield. "Lt. Dan" is far from gracious, having resigned himself to continuing the honorable family tradition of dying in an American war. Instead, he winds up with no legs and no future outside of collecting disability pension. Forrest moves in with Dan, telling him all about Bubba's dream of buying a boat and bodying the shrimp business.

Dan doesn't give a damn if the world blows up, so he's definitely not about to encourage the bird-brain. So Forrest goes back to Alabama and makes enough money playing ping pong to buy a shrimping boat. Dan has a change of heart, and the two makes millions operating as "Bubba Gump Shrimp Corp."

Forrest returns home. His mother's passed and he's inherited her old home. One day, Jenny returns. She's been off living in a way that Forrest certainly would never. He doesn't care where she's been or what she's done, hell, the fact that she's only with him because she can't think anywhere else to go doesn't even bother Forrest. His Jennaaayyy is back. She refuses his marriage proposal, but not his penis, and when she leaves again the next morning, Forrest takes off for a cross-country run that lasts three years.

He becomes an inspiration, simply for trying to forget his broken heart. And then, one day, he just stops.

A letter from Jenny brought him to where we saw him first, on the bench, drawling out his life story a succession of perfect strangers waiting for the bus to take him to her. In true Gump fashion, she lives only six blocks away from where he's been seated this whole time.

Jenny seems more settled. She has a five-year-old son named Forrest…and a terminal illness (probably AIDS, the go-to disease to give a character when you want to solidify them as "bad"). She marries her son's father, and the pair live happily up until her death. Then we see Forrest crying over graves and smiling at his son getting on a bus. Circle of life.

It's a hell of a story, well-assembled: mental no-wit witnesses and influences numerous defining events of the latter half of the 20th century, all with a child-like single-mindedness and absence of glibness that captured the hearts of millions of Americans.

And then it played out in real life.

Despite of and because of the whitewash job it does on American history, Forrest Gump became a cultural phenomenon with its unmistakable message of "dumb=good." Too harsh? Okay, "dumb=preferred." Better? That so many people who identify as politically conservative embraced the film as ideal entertainment speaks for itself, but the appeal of Forrest Gump extended beyond a single group, becoming a legitimate phenomenon whose choicest quotes persist like superstitions. Liberal Hollywood loved it, too, awarding it Oscars for Best Picture (over Pulp Fiction, famously), Actor, Director and Adapted Screenplay.


BETTER IN YOUR HEAD?
In the name of John, Paul, Mike and Micky, I confidently undertake to repulse the attacks and deceits of Hollywood picture painters. Although I find that both book and film rely too heavily on the magic of coincidence to keep the action chugging, only one of them manages to keep it (mostly) real.

Despite the similarities, there really are two separate Forrest Gumps. One is a curious man. The other carries around a copy of Curious George. To comprehend the gap between the two Gumps, look no further than the two lines quoted at the beginning of each review.

Tom Hanks isn't really Forrest Gump; he's the actor Tom Hanks playing Forrest Gump. He's the actor Tom Hanks with an alleged Southern accent that never fails to start my brain to deliquescing. The film gives us Gump as a synthesis of unavoidable imbecility and accidental genius.

Groom's text is colder, crueler and more cynical. His Gump is an idiot savant with the body of an Adonis. He blows trees, spews obscenities and participates in the sexual Olympics with the love of his life. He saves Chairman Mao as unthinkingly as he saves a wounded platoon mate. He repeatedly states the emperor is not merely naked, but also smeared in shit. And yes, he uses the word "shit."

Hanks's Gump has no peculiar mental acuity and would lose to Spud from Trainspotting at any known test of physical strength. He is the all-American boy whose ability to obey orders more than makes up for his intellectual shortcomings. He doesn't know shit about shit, but he can play a sport, so here's your degree, son! The odds are staggering, yet the Gump prevails, armed with a "can-do" attitude and an actual inability to ever overthink a situation. U-S-A! U-S-A! Lighten up, black nurse, how can your feet hurt when a retard wishes he had your shoes? Perspective, lady!

What's the harm? Look no further than the film's depiction of Jennaaayyyy. She endures an abusive childhood to become a smart, aware young woman who gets mixed up in the era's burgeoning counterculture, embracing her sexuality and experimenting with drugs before dropping a kid, marrying a burdensome idiot and dying young. Her fault for all the mixed messages! What decent woman would turn down the opportunity to be married to such a great guy? The movie brings out the worst in many viewers, the ones quick to discredit and shame women. Is it possible that Jenny pushed Forrest away time after time due to feeling that she was unworthy of unconditional love? I mean, her dad gets drunk and fucks his daughters and Jenny's just supposed to trust a man off the rip? Critical thinking, it is real and it is recommended.

(The book treats Jenny more sympathetically. She doesn't have all the baggage, but she's still an aware young woman with a lust for life. She's also solicitous and supportive, and both times she ends her relationship with Forrest, her reasons are sensible and clear.)

So what to take away? That we should all try to be more like Forrest Gump? Again go you there, shit no. Hell, don't even try to be like the book version, that asshole makes drinks with socks. At least, it must be said then repeated then written in the sky, that he isn't sick with the naivete of the film. Charming hearts, churning stomachs, it's your body: the KKK is a "club," Elvis sang himself to death, Jenny's dad is extremely affectionate, and golly, why would anyone want to shoot that nice young President?

Nah.

I am grateful more days than not that I do not struggle to retain information and glean insights. I like knowing the myriad reasons why JFK was worth more to this country dead than alive. I enjoy being able to fathom that there was more than one shooter. It tickles me to recognize that the Warren Commission is the only group more full of shit than Air Supply.

So here's what to take away. Discrimination based on race, gender, sexuality, nationality or any type of handicap is foul. Discrimination based on personality or moral code, though, is often an indication of a discerning mind.

Huh, what? Aw, just grab a donut and read the book. While listening to the soundtrack. Because holy rucksack of creme eggs is that one of the most amazing compilations of songs for any purpose. Curated by gilded gods and gracious goddesses.

MIND THE GAP
The novel moved 30,000 copies before the adaptation. Currently, sales are in excess of 1.5 million copies.

The film rights netted Winston Groom $350K, with an additional 3% of "net profits" to be forthcoming. When he called Paramount to inquire as to the ETA of his check, they explained that the fastest film to reach the $100 million mark in the history of the studio was in fact losing money thanks to Hollywood's unique accounting practices. Groom would later receive a further quarter-million dollars. For a film that brought in over half a billion worldwide.
        Further, since the movie industry is all about ignoring writers when not screwing them over, the name "Winston Groom" was not uttered during any of the six acceptance speeches given on Oscar night by people being honored for their work on the Forrest Gump film. Nope, not even super-duper guy Tom Hanks, who made 30 million dollars bringing Groom's creation to life.
        The film would not have done a third of its box office without Hanks, though. Amazing to think John Travolta and Chevy Chase were each approached before him. (Winston Groom envisioned John Goodman, a choice which, had the orangutan or wrestler subplots been saved, would have made for a much less financially successful but probably more artistically fulfilling film.)

Never forget: only pot-smoking, sign-toting, march-attending, commie-loving, cop-hating long-haired freakazoids hit women.

"I am 'Temporarily Deferred,' on accounts of I am a numbnuts." Not one mention in six speeches!

Losing the NASA plot to keep the hero's feet firmly planted is sad only if one considers how much funnier it would have made Apollo 13.

Losing the chess plot is the height of merciful action. Fuck me insensate, like chess ain't dull enough to sit down and play, much less sit down and read about.

Losing the wrestling plot makes me angry at Tom Hanks for weighing only 75 pounds. 

In reality, Forrest Gump would be using that bench as a bed and the chocolates box as a pillow.

When Forrest taught young Elvis the salacious moves that would soon set America on fire, I smirked. When he inadvertently exposes Watergate, I rolled one eye and sent the other to the side. When the hurricane wrecked every boat but his? My sigh registered 90db.

It offers up moments of outstanding visual power (including some fresh-for-then effects) which prettify the plot. Not all of it holds up well. Particularly, the overdubbed voices heard on the archival footage are hideous. The John Lennon one, especially, is something you'd expect to hear in a movie where the main character is an animal.

"Forrest, I want you to fuck me." 0 for 6? Ungrateful pricks!

When Groom's work lost its grip on reality, it lots its grip on my imagination. The dip is brief, but undeniable. Scriptwriter Eric Roth made that brief diversion into the film, without actually using any moments from it. Which is kind of brilliant.

I will answer to either "Jenn" or "Jennifer." I will question the desire to maintain a high quality of life in anyone who dares calls me "Jenny." The reason for my aversion? YUP. Thankfully, I still (somehow) love shrimp.





*Be in no rush to check out 1995's sequel, Gump & Co., in which the author commits the unforgivable sin of compromising his own character to reflect the version in the film. I'll never write a book that'll sell as much, but boy howdy I won't sell out that much, either.

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