"The cinema has the power to make you not feel lonely, even when you are."
Everyone’s favorite everyman turns 65 this year and as a way to celebrate (and to set a personal goal while embracing my aversion to New Year’s Resolutions) I have decided to watch all of Tom Hanks’ live-action films in chronological order (or as close as I can get depending on their availability). Not only does this give me something to look forward to in the evenings knowing that Tom Hanks has never made a bad film,* but it gives me a project to work on so when my family asks me to make them a meal, I can holler, “MOMMY IS WORKING!,” as I reach for the remote.
If we are to begin at the beginning, we begin with Big Hair Don’t Care Hanks. BHDC Hanks (or "Hanx" as he often calls himself) is the scientific name for any Tom Hanks movie made between 1982 and 1987 when Hanks' hair was a beautiful sphere, like cotton candy at the fair... but brown.
My NYE 2022 started off right as I spent it at home watching this gem from 1982. Mazes and Monsters shoots us straight back to the Satanic Panic of the ‘80s and reminds us all of the alarming dangers of role-playing games and cosplay. Mazes and Monsters is a stand-in for Dungeons and Dragons which you should be able to tell by the alliteration and the inherent EVILS that come with it. Hanx plays a student who’s just gone off to college where he meets a group who needs a 4th player for their RPG. We soon learn that Hanx’s character has had quite the addiction to Mazes and Monsters in the past which will, of course, only come back to haunt him IN A CAVERN later in the film! This movie is 100% ridiculous but if you know what you’re going into (zero budget for special effects, a pretty bad script, and some not-so-great acting) it’s honestly kind of fun. Hanx and his co-star / love interest Wendy Crewson, are the best actors by far and you can see why he will eventually become the star we all know and love today.
(This is Tom Hanks’ first film but I watched it after Mazes and Monsters due to availability at the library). Do you hear wedding bells? Well, you better run because a serial killer is stalking brides to be!! Hanks has a small role as one of the stalked bride’s friends and doesn’t add much to the film other than a rather long scene where he mansplains what it means to be afraid and ruins everyone’s good time at an amusement park. The movie itself wouldn’t have been so bad— who doesn’t love a cheesy horror flick from the '80s?— except that the serial killer is not scary at all. He stares a lot before he stabs, his undereye concealer highlighting the bags under his eyes, which I suppose are rather terrifying. But, that’s about it. Staring and stabbing. Stabbing and Staring.
“I’ve waited my whole life to fall in love and when I finally meet her? She’s a fish.” Has there ever been a better line of dialogue? Rewatching this film that I first watched as a child, it is still a fun, light-hearted, mermaid romp. However. There are details I recognized an adult that I didn't notice as a kid: 1) Allen’s brother (played by John Candy) Freddy, is a creep. He is full cringe throwing money on the ground to look up women's skirts and shirking all adult responsibilities. 2) It’s a real joy to go back and see Eugene Levy's earlier work before Christopher Guest got ahold of him (no shade here, I love all of those mockumentaries!) and before Schitt’s Creek turned him and his kids into huge stars. He is so sincere as the disrespected and undervalued scientist, Walter Kornbluth. I wanted to give him a hug. 3) Allen tells Madison (played endearingly by Daryl Hannah) when she chooses her name from a NYC street sign, that Madison isn’t actually a name at all. Did this movie play a role in Madison becoming one of the most popular names for girls in the years to follow? According to Yahoo news, not only did it play a role, but it is the reason there are so many Madisons in our midst. We are surrounded by mermaids. Please don’t spray them with a hose on the street like Walter Kornbluth did to this poor Madison.
Tom Hanks has made a bad film. It is this one. It’s so bad I honestly felt guilty that I had the library pay for it to come through Interlibrary Loan. Let’s never speak of it again.
Big Hair Don’t Care Tom Hanks is nostalgic for many of us but what we should not be nostalgic for is the casual racism that was central to so many movies of the 1980s. In Volunteers, Hanks is an entitled, college kid who decides to join the Peace Corps as a way to avoid his debt collectors. He arrives in Thailand with his weird, east coast (?), rich kid, accent and immediately, the jokes are all about the Thai people and their traditions. John Candy is the loveable goof we’ve come to know, but even his character yells, “Speak English!” to a bunch of Thai folks… in Thailand. Japanese-American actor, Gedde Watanabe, plays a Thai man who has the painstaking job of explaining to every idiot American why certain trees are sacred and how their traditions are just different, not wrong. It was hard to continue watching at times, especially after the movie I watched previously to this one (the one I will never speak of again) was racist, sexist, and all the other ists you can imagine. Volunteers does have one shining scene, however. When Rita Wilson is on the plane with Tom Hanks heading to Thailand, they gaze into each other’s eyes and there is much chemistry. We know now that they’ll be married IRL a few years later and still be married IRL 40 years after that. It feels pretty special. I included a picture of the moment so you don’t have to watch Volunteers.
Every Time We Say Goodbye:
Tom Hanks plays a Canadian who enlists in the British army and is stationed in Jerusalem in 1945. Or maybe he's an American who went to Canada and enlisted there. The back story is a little fuzzy because I was distracted by folding laundry and honestly, it's not really that important because the real story, of course, is one of forbidden love. David Bradley (Hanks) falls in love with Sarah Perrara (Cristina Marsillach) whose Sephardic Jewish family is vehemently and at times violently opposed to her relationship with him because he is a gentile. Marsillach as Sarah is ethereal and other worldly and simply floats on screen. Hanks' role is written as a fish out of water on purpose, of course, but he struggles in this drama. BHDC Hanks will master these roles a little later in his career, but he's not quite there yet. Although, I did enjoy this one more than I anticipated and am glad I sought it out.
Shelley Long! Please come back to us! So funny and talented! Such presence! I love you! Well, that got weird. Anyway, The Money Pit stands out from the others on this list in that it clearly had a robust budget (produced by Steven Spielberg) that probably even included things like craft services. I hadn't seen The Money Pit in decades but found myself laughing out loud several times. Hanx and Long have a unique chemistry that keeps us rooting for them the whole time while their house and marriage fall apart before our very eyes. Do I dare say it's a classic? I dare say it! Classic.
I had hoped to wrap up BHDC Hanx with Big (obviously), but unfortunately some people in this house think I need to live a life outside of Tom Hanks filmography, so I will have to catch up on that one next time around! Until then, reach for the sky! (My one and only (?) Toy Story reference) and dream Big!
-Sarah Mathews is an Accounts Assistant at Lawrence Public Library