Oct 10, 2010

Things I love about America: Tom Hanks

My wife Kate has pointed out that I complain about America — her home country, my adoptive country — too much. It pains me to hear this, because as much as I may find myself irritated by the health service here, and all the sucking up to the rich that goes on in Republican circles, along with the denigration of education, the veneration of ignoramuses, and the vilification of perfectly decent men who are trying to govern a fractious, declining superpower that seemingly prefers to keep its illusions about itself intact rather than actually recover — despite all this, nobody likes to be thought of as a sourpuss. So I'm making a point of writing the odd post about what I love about the place. And the first thing that springs to mind is that it is the country which produced Tom Hanks. America has many other feathers to its bow, of course, many of them celebrated by Hanks himself, whose films present something of an archive of America's greatest hits, from the Normandy landing to the Apollo missions to poseable action figures — a brand of pop-culture patriotism that all devotees of American soft power will find palatable. Kate is well aware of my love for Hanks, since we actually met on a dating site, my profile for which made great play of my Hanks fixation, in the interest of projecting an air of ambrosial optimism, so that by the time my future wife got me home, unwrapped the box and found me out for the crabbed misanthrope that I actually am, it would all be too late. She was instantly suspicious. "What's with the Tom Hanks fixation?" she asked in her very first email. I patiently explained that I loved the way he improves every script he came into contact with, brings out the best in his co-stars, plays well with others and also performs well with crudites, once cited Turner and Hooch as containing 'some of his best work' on Inside the Actor's Studio, and meant it, and when given the opportunity to step behind the camera did so not to forge in the smith of his soul the uncreated conscience of his race, but instead made a movie about a fictional one hit-wonder pop group. Furthermore, a man who when asked if he had any regrets by Kurt Anderson in the New Yorker answered, “If I wanted to go way, way, way, way, way, way back, I could say, ‘Jeez, I should have got out of high school and gone right across the bridge into San Francisco, and tried to get into the American Conservatory Theatre.’ But, hey, you know what? I turned out to be a movie star! So it worked out O.K.” — an answer so deftly balancing self-deprecation and gee-willickers self-acknowledgement while also avoiding the lures of false humility as to be just about perfect.

Above: Tom Hanks' teeth, as seen during a recent visit to the dentist, via Twitpix.


  1. I watched Big over the weekend with my wife and four-year-old son. I think that film contains his best work because it doesn't look as if he's trying (I can't really speak for his performance in T&H; it's been quite a while since I saw it) and is the middle of a great run of such films, including Dragnet, Punchline, Joe vs The Volcano and The 'Burbs.

    The double Oscar years of Philadelphia and Forrest Gump were good, but I found him slightly less likeable because it seemed as if he was somewhat aware of the SIZE of the performances he was required to give. I guess there's no going back after that (except when he plays Woody). He's still a guy you'd love to have a pint with, but I preferred him when he carried less baggage. Those roles seemed to suit him more.

  2. You've got great taste. Big is indeed the best Tom Hanks film. And yes, the sense of responsibility that appears to weigh him down post-Oscars is a drag. Even in films like You've Got Mail he enters the room like a megastar holding a meeting. But Charlie Wilson's War had some of his old fun and Larry Crowne looks highly promising.

  3. And don't forget Catch Me If You Can, a brilliant performance as a nerdy, ordinary middle-aged guy.