There are a little over 300 words I just deleted from my original draft of this review (or essay, or collection of trash fire words, or whatever you want to call it) of The BFG because I found myself lamenting about how movies are important in times of strife. It’s good just to be transported somewhere else just to get your mind off being sad, at least for a couple of hours. Then I remembered I had written that piece before. (And, to be honest probably before that.) Far too often, these days, I feel this way: Just sad about everything happening and feeling helpless to do anything, no matter how angry we all get, about the easy access to assault rifles — or sad about a whole host of other things. And then how can I possibly care about writing about something like The BFG? Oh, yes, escapism! That’s my entry point. It always is now. And we need escapism sometimes, but maybe not this often.
Anyway, let’s cut to the chase: Does The BFG work as a piece of escapism? Was my mind free of daily worries and was I transported to a magical world of giants? Eh, mostly. I mean, this is Steven Spielberg, he knows what he’s doing. And The BFG mostly accomplishes what it sets out to do. By the time The BFG farts green smoke, well, yeah, that held my interest.
This film is based on Roald Dahl’s 1982 children’s book and it doesn’t surprise me that Robin Williams was originally attached for the title role in an earlier incarnation of the project. The BFG feels like one of Robin Williams’ warm and cuddly movies, which, right now, kind of hits the right spot. Here he’s played by Mark Rylance, who is wonderful; I can only guess Robin Williams’ performance would be much different.
Young Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) is a London orphan who has been given strict instructions not to look out the window at night because little children have started disappearing. Sophie, who tends to defy authority and suffers from insomnia, of course breaks this rule and soon finds herself in the hands of a giant that she eventually nicknames The BFG, short for “The Big Friendly Giant.”
Not a lot happens for the first half of this movie. It’s not dull – Spielberg is the master of creating a world of wonder, even if we are just kind of looking around at it for a longer than you’d expect – but it’s not terribly exciting either. We learn that The BFG collects dreams that he keeps in jars. He then travels the streets of London, dispensing these dreams to unsuspecting sleepers. It’s all very strange, but in a Spielberg-ian nice way.
There are bigger giants who all pick on The BFG. And these are the scoundrels – led by Jemaine Clement’s The Fleshlumpeater – who have been kidnapping children and presumably eating them. I say “presumably” because it’s never disclosed what has happened to these children, but it’s a) established that these giants will eat humans and b) there’s no daring rescue of all the missing children. This is all very grim, but it’s also largely avoided. The third act of The BFG, which I won’t spoil, is very different. A lot of actors that you see in the credits – don’t appear until the third act.
The BFG is a nice movie. This sounds like a dig, but it’s not. Nice is a good thing. And you know how with a lot of movie aimed for children the clichéd line will be, “It’s for kids, but there’s something in there for the parents, too”? What that usually means is that it’s a movie for kids, but an adult will find entertainment from the almost non-stop whiz-bang popular culture references. With The BFG, there are few popular culture references, but an adult will marvel at the work of a craftsman like Spielberg – who can take a story that’s as light as something like this, and turn it into a world of wonder. So there’s that – but it does feel like a 45 minute movie that’s been stretched to just under two hours. Oh, and the farting. Everyone will like the farting. And there’s plenty of farting
Mike Ryan lives in New York City and has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and New York magazine. He is senior entertainment writer at Uproxx. You can contact him directly on Twitter.