Directed By: Barry Levinson
Written By: Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass
The vast majority of the movies I grew up with were found on my own or I came by them through my mother’s side of the family. My father, despite his job while I was growing up never really got into movies as I or others in my family did. He’s not the type to get anything from a movie and they rarely mean very much to him. Sometimes though, an occasional film will stick with him. Sometimes they are the most unexpected of films but that’s not the case with this one. My dad, always the Tom Cruise fan, loves this movie and even to this day may quote it on a daily basis. Not even two days ago I heard him running through the warehouse yelling “V-E-R-N!” to a group of guys quietly trying spell it out in their heads and desperately trying to figure out what the boss wanted of them. Now, most of these kids were not even alive when this movie came out, oh how the time is flying, much less familiar with one unmemorable line from a classic they hadn’t seen. I got a kick out of watching the confusion created for these youngsters who are mostly in their late teens or early 20s but the point is that after 27 years my old man still has this movie at the forefront of his mind.
I don’t think it’s the kind of classic that holds up quite like that but it is a classic regardless. My point is that this is a classic movie that most movie fans have seen but here I witnessed a group of kids completely in the dark and even unaware of the film altogether when it was explained. One of them in particular, who had specifically been made to feel dumb over the whole thing, came up to me later and so pitifully asked, “what’s a vern?” I laughed and told him not to put too much thought into the old man’s references and for the love of God never mention the Timewarp or anything from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. If he did I would hold him personally responsible for what followed. For reasons I will never understand my dad is really into that one too (it should be noted that I know for a fact drugs aren’t involved and I often tell him he’s the only sober person who likes that movie). He’s so into the movie that it is embarrassing and I have literally had to hide my face in shame many times when he completely uncharacteristically breaks into song and dance at the mention of the film.
My point being, this movie reminds me of my dad more than anything else. Which is ironic given it’s about a guy with a tumultuous relationship with his father. All fathers and sons have layered relationships that can create animosity from both sides but I generally think it’s a typical thing. I think when it comes to fathers and sons they are more often than not too much alike yet too different at the same time. Under those dynamics the circumstances can create a variety of different outcomes.
I bought this movie a couple of years ago because Amber had never seen it and I felt like it was good enough for the collection. Nevertheless it’s not a movie that’s ever really meant much to me. I think Dustin Hoffman gave an outstanding performance and I appreciate the awareness it brought to a largely misunderstood condition at the time. Truth is, I’ve never been a fan of films about the mentally handicapped. I appreciate and respect the mentally disabled and my opinions about films focusing on them often give people the wrong idea. I feel like the films always have the same message in the end; which is that these people matter and we shouldn’t treat them like they are insignificant. I know that and I believe in that but I don’t feel like sitting through every actor’s efforts to win an Oscar by taking on the part. All the inevitable hallmark moments in between only meant to make our eyes leak bother me too. I’m a sap when it comes to movies and I try to avoid crying when it’s abundantly clear to me it is going to happen. I don’t really feel like this movie falls into that category, but generally speaking that’s just how I feel about movies of the subject matter. I feel like this about several types of films. For similar reasons I don’t watch movies about junkies, and I don’t watch movies about sports for a different but similar reason in that they are all the same.
In the case of this film I do feel like it is an exceptional movie. Although, if I’m not mistaken, it exaggerated Autism to a severe degree but if it brought more awareness to the condition it’s still a good thing. I think Dustin Hoffman proved he was still one of the greatest actors out there when he won the Academy Award for Best Actor with this part. I grew up knowing Hoffman mainly from this role, granted I never realized he was Captain Hook in Hook because of the costume, so I was really surprised to find out how notable of an actor he really was back in the 60s and 70s. Hoffman is an actor who didn’t age well, but he kept getting roles because he was that damn good as an actor. I’ve never been a fan particularly but I respect him for what he has accomplished throughout his career.
This is actually the role I have most associated with Tom Cruise throughout my life. In this movie he plays such an unbelievable asshole and he does it so well. Almost too well to the point it makes me think this is who he really is. Given this is the role I grew up knowing him from it should be easy to understand why I have always despised him as a person. It easier to understand if you learn a little bit about the guy and listen to what he’s all about but that isn’t the whole story for me. I think Tom Cruise is a terrific actor but I despise the man. I think that he is the guy we see in this movie and that’s the base of my dislike for him. I have enjoyed so many of his roles and cannot deny his talent but I just cannot openly support a proponent of Scientology and all the madness that this man is involved with. As much as I love to hate the guy though he is good at what he does. Even in this film as an unbelievable asshole he wins us over in the end by actually connecting with his brother and being less of an asshole. The change of Charlie Babbitt in this movie is what makes it endearing. The performance of Hoffman is what makes it great but the change we see in Cruise’s character is what makes it lovable. Tom Cruise is a total douche, but he knows how to win us over and no matter how much I dislike him I can’t help but admit how talented he is.
I came into this movie with an attitude that was less than enthused. I have to admit it though; this is an endearing movie that wins you over in the end. It’s inspiring to see this asshole learn to be a different person by finding out he has a brother and connecting with him despite all odds. I like that kind of character arc and I always feel like I learn about myself a little as I watch a character learn and evolve into a different person. It inspires me to think about who I am and how I can be a better person myself. Charlie Babbitt was an unbelievable asshole, but if you asked him he probably wouldn’t say so. Some of us can be blind to who we actually are because we are arrogant and selfish creatures by nature. Truth is we can all be better. I certainly can at least and I strive to be better on a daily basis; it should be noted I don’t always succeed. I’m a big believer that when we stop getting better we are simply getting worse. I don’t see a plateau and I don’t want to. I want to always be aware that no matter what I am doing I can always be better. I appreciate movies like this that make me think, and the lessons I can take from watching someone else learn a little bit more about himself.
This movie didn’t get nominated and win Academy Awards simply because Dustin Hoffman started counting toothpicks. It was well-recognized because it is a great movie. It’s funny, dramatic, and interesting throughout. I think it also gives an interesting glimpse into the world of 1988, which I had never noticed until watching it now, in 2015. If you have already seen this movie I think you might find yourself as surprised as I was when I watched it again. If you haven’t seen it then you should check it out. It’s a great 80s movie that is worth your time to see.
NEXT MOVIE: Raising Arizona (1987)