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Salt Lake City Weekly Warm, Fuzzy Giant

Billy Crystal's "My Giant" is a heart-warming fairytale with plenty of laughs.

By Mary Dickson

APRIL 20, 1998:  The premise may be a turn-off to some people, but Billy Crystal's touching comedy about a gentle Romanian giant and the American promoter who discovers and is, ultimately, changed by him is so full of heart and humor it rises above the story line.

A great film for kids and families, My Giant has a fairytale quality with its Central European setting, castles and giant, and its warm-hearted story.

Making his acting debut, Gheorghe Muresan, the seven-foot-seven Washington Wizards basketball player, is completely winning as the film's giant. Muresan not only has an unusually expressive face, but he conveys emotional range and depth with a natural ease. His eyes are infused with sadness, sensitivity, kindness and exuberance. But it's his utter guilelessness that's so disarming. Here's a man the outside world considered a freak who has found a sense of peace and self that eludes most contemporary folk.

Billy Crystal came up with the story line almost 10 years ago as a result of his friendship with World Wrestling Federation Champion Andre the Giant, who died prematurely of heart failure related to his size. Crystal met Andre while making The Princess Bride and was impressed by the large man's sensitivity.

While My Giant isn't about Andre, it is inspired by him and, according to Crystal, captures his spirit. When Crystal saw Gheorghe Muresan playing basketball, he knew he had found his giant, and what a wise choice it turns out to be. Muresan makes this humble, gentle character immediately likable.

Crystal, a gifted actor and natural comedian, plays a second-rate agent whose marriage is failing. While in Romania where his young client is making a film, Sam meets Maximus, the seven-foot-seven "Diavlo Grotesque" who lives a sequestered life as a caretaker at a monastery. Fearing he was possessed by the devil because he didn't stop growing and concerned that the people would hurt him, Maximus' parents packed him off to the monastery. His size and strange face frightened people, who pelted him with rocks and called him names, but in the monastery he was safe. The sheep and cows he tended didn't care about his size, nor did the monks. In this cloistered life, Maximus spent his days reading and learning—he not only quotes Shakespeare, but speaks five languages.

After he plucks Sam out of a wrecked car, the two become fast friends. Initially, Sam sees Max as his ticket to the bigtime. He gets the giant a bit part in the Romanian film as a ferocious and monstrous warrior who delivers one line, "Vanquish my enemies!" To Sam, it's the beginning of Max' movie career, but this gentle giant is content with his simple life.

My Giant
Directed by
Michael Lehmann
Starring
Billy Crystal
Gheorghe Muresan
He is a religious man with a big heart whose only desire to leave the safe confines of the monastery is to find Lilliana, the girl he loved as a teenager who moved to Gallup, New Mexico. Max has written to her every day for the last 23 years, though her letters have been returned. Those letters and his books are all that have sustained him. He's never seen a movie, and fame on the big screen means nothing to him, unless it provides a way to see Lilliana.

Sam brings his new friend to America—the parallels between himself and the promoter in King Kong aren't lost on Sam. What happens, of course, is that instead of exploiting his giant, Sam comes to truly appreciate him. When a producer trying to cut a deal calls Max a stupid giant, Sam snaps, "He speaks five languages! How many do you speak?" When he takes Max to Cleveland as a freak wrestling act—he's supposed to be in the ring with seven dwarves—Sam immediately regrets his deal. As the emcee announces a fight between the savage "Diavlo Grotesque" and the seven dwarves, Sam knows he has betrayed this kind soul, deeply hurt his feelings, and destroyed his trust.

Even though the giant eventually lands a three-movie deal, including a film with Steven Segal who plays himself as a bonafide jerk, Max opts for simplicity. He teaches Crystal something about the importance of family, friendship, acceptance and respect—all valuable lessons for any kid to learn these days. It takes a simple giant to show Sam what really matters.

While foremost a comedy, the film has many touching moments that succeed, thanks to the performances of Crystal and Muresan and the easy rapport between them. Director Michael Lehmann (The Truth About Cats and Dogs) deftly balances the humor and the pathos, as nimble with one as with the other. It's hilarious when Max sees his first film, Dirty Harry, dubbed in Romanian, or meets Sam's mother, father, sister, cousins, uncles and aunts. It's equally moving when Max sweetly recites "How Do I Love Thee" in a way that makes his simple expression of passion feel profound.

Yes, My Giant is another story of a misunderstood and maligned misfit of uncommon humanity who ends up teaching others the real meaning of life (Think of Forrest Gump, Powder, the list goes on and on), but it's handled in such a genuinely engaging fashion that it works. Take your kids, or go yourself to this modern fairytale with a heartwarming story, a timely moral, and plenty of laughs. u


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