Editor’s note: This review first appeared in The Advocate on July 15, 1994. In celebration of the film’s 20th anniversary, “Forrest Gump” is returning to theaters for a limited time starting Friday.
“Forrest Gump” is a modern fable. Though the film’s hero has an IQ of 75, the good-natured, strangely gifted, extremely lucky Forrest Gump becomes a football star, a war hero, an international Ping-Pong champ and spokesman for a generation. And that’s not all.
We’ve seen Gump’s kind before — in movies at least. For “Being There,” Peter Sellers played a mentally deficient but impeccably dressed gardener who becomes a potential presidential candidate. Dustin Hoffman was an autistic savant in “Rain Man.” Woody Allen shared the limelight with famous faces in “Zelig.”
“Forrest Gump,” featuring likable Tom Hanks as its extraordinary title character, broadens the fanciful scenarios of the latter films into an epic covering more than 30 years of American history. Like Allen’s Leonard Zelig and Sellers’ aptly named Chance the gardener, Gump accidentally lands in the midst of the powerful and famous and curve of historical events.
With the help of the special effects provided by Industrial Light & Magic, director Robert Zemeckis puts Gump in the company of American presidents John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, has him unknowingly help the integration of the University of Alabama and join ex-Beatle John Lennon as a talk show guest. But Gump — unlike millions with normal intelligence — is above participation in the hero worship heaped upon the famous people he meets. Apparently, being out of the loop, being dumb, has its advantages.
Gump is born after World War II in the small town of Greenbow, Alabama. Having never known his absent father, the person most responsible for shaping Forrest’s charming, irrepressible personality is his feisty, loving mother, known simply as Mama. Sally Field makes a gutsy Mama Gump. She’ll do literally anything for her boy. Determined he’ll get the best education, she gets him in a regular rather than “special” public school. Just as Field’s Mama is strong and loving, she’s also wise. Her advice rings through Forrest Gump.
“Don’t ever let anybody tell you they’re better than you,” she tells Forrest.
Thanks to Mama, Forrest is put on the straight and narrow path, even though he was born with crooked legs. The twisted limbs, by the way, are fitted with miraculously effective braces in a scene featuring local actor Harold Herthum as a wisecracking Alabama doctor.
Hanks’ accent — a Southern version of Stan Laurel’s childlike English accent — is odd, but it doesn’t stop enjoyment of his wonderfully simple-minded character. Pulling Gump off — a creature supremely naive yet mystically wise — is a real feather in Hanks’ hat. Only the deepest of comic actors — Sellers of “Being There” fame included — could do it.
“Forrest Gump’s” excellent supporting cast includes Mykelti Williamson as Gump’s funny Army buddy, Bubba Blue. Robin Wright plays Gump’s tragic love interest, Jenny. Gary Sinise scores as the wunderkind’s embittered commanding officer.
A general knowledge of recent American history — the sort you’d think students learn in or before high school — will help viewers appreciate “Forrest Gump.” History-deprived moviegoers will miss the film’s clever historical references.
Reviewer’s rating: 3 out of 4 stars
STARRING: Tom Hanks, Robin Wright, Sally Field, Gary Sinise, Mykelti Williamson
DIRECTOR: Robert Zemeckis
NOW SHOWING: In wide release.
RUNNING TIME: 2 hrs., 22 mins.
MPAA RATING: PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
WHY IS THIS MOVIE RATED PG-13? For drug content, some sensuality and war violence