Penny Marshall


Penny Marshall has directed six films in her career: "The Preachers Wife"(1996), "Renaissance Man"(1994), "A League of Their Own"(1992), "Awakenings"(1990), "Big"(1998), and "Jumpin' Jack Flash"(1986). We know Penny best from her stint in Laverne and Shirley (1976-1983) as the hilarious Laverne De Fazio. After the series was cancelled Laverne appeared in some pictures until her directorial debut in "Jumpin' Jack Flash". This film was pretty much a bomb and Penny gained credibility as a director in "Big". Tom Hanks received a nomination for Best Actor in this picture. Marshall's best directorial accomplishment had to be in "Awakenings" starring Robert DeNiro and Robin Williams. This film was nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Robert DeNiro), and for Best Adapted Screenplay.

Penny Marshall's style is classical. "Awakenings" and "Big" in particular are based upon a three-act structure. "A League of their Own" and "Big" are tall tales, strongly centered on plot. There exists good and bad people, and characters that are changed by their experiences (Dr. Malcolm Sayer, Josh Baskin). Character actors are prominent in her films and certainly used to reflect the persona of the star as well as to draw people to the movie. In films such as "Big" Penny places a high emphasis on setting which are highly selective in detail.

Penny Marshall's typical choice of genre is comedy probably because of her comedic background, but she did direct "Awakenings" which is a drama. Her films tend to deal with contemporary issues in society such as coming of age ("Big"), oppression of the mentally handicapped ("Awakenings"), and women's accomplishment ("A League of their Own"). Penny Marshall's films are not multi million dollar movies which are filled with special effects and fancy camera action rather they are simple pictures which let the actors convey the messages. Penny does not attempt to use film as an art form; rather she uses film to tell a story.

Penny Marshall's story sources consist of original and adapted screenplays. "Big" was written by Gary Ross who is best known for writing and producing "Pleasantville", and Anne Spielberg who wrote "Toy Story". "Awakenings" was adapted from a book of the same title by Oliver Sacks and written for the screen by Steven Zaillian who wrote "Schindler's List" and "A Civil Action" to name but a few. From these two films it is presumed that Penny uses a variety of sources.

In "Awakenings" and "Big" Penny's style is classicism. Personality actors are used (Robin Williams, Robert DeNiro, Tom Hanks) rather than unknown actors. The acting is a little larger than life; for example when Tom Hanks gets his wish and moves to the "Big" city. His actions as well as his demeanor are highly exaggerated. This is exceptional casting because Tom Hanks is an excellent external actor and was able to bring himself into the situation of a thirteen-year-old. "Big" is a tall tale strongly centered on plot and the three-act structure. The characters have motivations and intentions (to grow up); they exist in a situation that looks and sounds a lot like reality, but where dramatic license or necessity takes over from the "truth". "Awakenings" on the other hand is not a tall tale rather it is based upon a true story. Yet it is based on the three- act structure. In classicism characters are often reformed by their experiences. Dr. Malcolm Sayer was reformed from an introverted clinical researcher to the point where he could ask a woman out for a date.

In "Awakenings" tight framing is mostly used. This allows for the audience to perceive the prison the patients are trapped in. Throughout the picture there is mostly only two people in the frame (2S) and a lot of P.O.V shots, close proxemeties on the part of Sayer. This is probably because of the nature of the medical profession; it is mostly one on one consultation and we must perceive the situation in the eyes of Malcolm. The cameras give many different angles on the same character this is to let the audience develop their own idea on the situation. The close up is prominent especially when the patients are incapacitated, trapped in their death like state. Why? , because the audience is able to look into their minds and wonder if in fact there is life in there, and wonder if they know we are there. With Leonard Marshall uses profile and full front shots