The ’90s were the prime time of coming of age films. Sure, we had the ’80s and their treasure chest full of John Hughes films, however, getting down to the grit of adolescent pain wasn’t always promised. Aside from movies like Pretty in Pink and The Breakfast Club, Hughes sometimes wanted us to have a damn good time through and through. In a natural evolution, the cinematic representation of pre-teens and teenagers became multi-dimensional and we began to creep into the psyche and driving influence of our protagonists. The Inkwell, Stand By Me, My Girl and The Sandlot all featured these recipes, pushing us to fall in love right where we sat, as we related to various scenarios. But where were the stories based on female crews? They existed, they always did. Girls weren’t strangers to coming-of-age films. Heck, they were so often the star. But therein was the issue: It seemed we were allotted one female–and maybe one background best friend per story. Yes, Ann M. Martin’s The Babysitter’s Club had an ensemble, but they were too squeaky clean; and The Golden Girls–although lovable and entertaining–were generations away from validating the experiences of adolescents.
Enter, Now and Then, a film that widely changed what was hidden. It went beyond the ‘sugar and spice and everything nice’ myth of what girls are made of and created a jumbled yet filling soup of perplexed emotions. Roberta (Christina Ricci), Teeny (Thora Birch), Sam (Gaby Hoffman) and Chrissy (Ashleigh Aston Moore) were four girls–each from different backgrounds–working to find themselves amid their situations in a 1970s suburban America. Precocious, unfiltered, curious, flirty, mischievous, foul-mouthed, gentle and rambunctious, they were everything we recognized in our own girl gangs–even though society and our mothers refused to believe so. I remember catching looks from my own mom as she placed my folded clothes in my drawer, no doubt questioning why she’d bought me this movie about ‘fast ass’ girls from Blockbuster. Oh, she wanted to give me a read, for sure. Thankfully, she never did–maybe because she understood my new reality at thirteen. Life had become a complicated cluster, and deep down inside, I think she preferred for me to identify with four characters born on paper and live on film, versus seriously struggling out of her radius.
Through stories like Now and Then, and the space to explore themselves, young girls were given room to be. No parameters, no way. If parameters were to be set, it resulted out of personal choice. And those choices varied, by the minute, day, week, month and even the girl. Because, as Now and Then declared with its characters, there isn’t one way to walk this earth as a female.
Played by the muse of my heart, Christina Ricci, Roberta was the only girl in a family of boys. Her persona in the group was that of tomboy. She reflected this in the first scene we met her in–as she stood in front of a mirror, complaining about her growing breasts and taping them down with duct tape. Despite her numerous hard edges, she had a softness to her. At some point, after the death of her mother, she covered them in defense from the world. But in every scene she screamed vulnerability, even when she smiled or kicked the neighborhood bully’s ass for saying girls can’t play ball. And who could forget Roberta’s kiss with the oldest Wormer boy (Devon Sawa)–the neighborhood’s pestering band of brothers? My gosh, after shipping Christina Ricci and Devon Sawa in Little Giants and Casper, the cinematic powers that be decided to grant us one more treat with their Now and Then chemistry. I’ll never be over them.
Roberta taught us: Be fearless at all times–no matter the uncertainty in our lives, past and present. It’s okay to break down and cry and be angry at the cards life has dealt you sometimes. Keep your tribe close, and together, you’ll pull through.
Sam, for the most part, was practical and odd. She was a little bit of everyone, not easily pigeon-holed. There were things she wanted to understand, like death, the afterlife, boys, war and how her parents could throw the towel in on their marriage. Being a product of a broken home, I identified with her the most. I knew exactly what she was feeling as she overheard conversations through the walls and witnessed the breaking of her family. This made Sam lose trust in all she’d known and much of the crew’s journey throughout the film is centered around this and her need for answers. Sam didn’t even know what she was looking for exactly, but that created her road to the next phase in her life. All of her wandering and wondering eventually led to her career as a writer–which allowed her to recognize her bad habit of escapism.
Sam taught us: You can’t always run away from everything. Some things–pressure points of emotional pain–need to be pressed before they can be healed. There’s bravery and benefit in that, especially when you have a dope girl gang to unbox your issues with.
Teeny! My gosh, every group had a Teeny. She was the one girl ready and set to grow up–filling water balloons with pudding to make for realistic bra stuffing. She was always enthusiastic about talking about boys. Never mind if she was speaking from inexperience, she had magazines like Cosmopolitan to go off of. After all, Teeny, the glamazon, was babysat by her favorite movie stars. Her parents were some sort of yuppie party people, always out of town for occasions. It seemed they never bothered to find proper childcare for Teeny. They either left or held parties at home, during which, Teeny would sit atop her roof and watch movies on the screen from the city’s drive-in theater. She very much so used escapism, like Sam, to get her through her feelings of neglect. This readied her future as an actress. Teeny could be anyone she wanted to be at any time that way.
Teeny taught us: The same thing Sam did, but with an added moral: don’t pretend. A girl doesn’t have to fake herself to be accepted, like she did certain situations with boys. We can be whole by being ourselves. Even though her mind seemed too far ahead, she empowered the curiosity within us and the femininity we possess. I do believe she was created to offset Roberta as means to argue what it means to be a traditional girl. The film gave no definitive answer, as we cannot be defined.
Little Miss Chrissy, the butt of all jokes. She was the poster child of naiveté, wasn’t she? You would’ve thought her parents kept her locked in the attic with The Partridge Family on repeat. Although they didn’t, I’m sure her mother wanted to–she thought Chrissy’s friends were trash mouths. Whenever Chrissy’s friends told her about french kissing or any type of intimacy, her mother was right there to sell her some unicorn fairy story instead. As an adult, looking back on the film, I respect her decision to hold on to her daughter’s purity for a little while longer. She wanted to do it on her own schedule as a parent. This panned out well in its own way. Chrissy had a sturdy set of morals. She didn’t cuss and she didn’t allow those around her to. And who knew she’d be the only one who wasn’t confused about who she wanted to be? All she wanted were answers for simple questions. She was a ladylike, the generalized definition of lady, at least. But don’t get it twisted, Chrissy would knock you cold with a right hook if you crossed her. Just ask Roberta.
Chrissy taught us: To be headstrong. Yes, peer pressure is real, and even Chrissy fell victim to it a few times, but it never dominated her because she was content with herself.
By the end of the girl’s summer, they stopped fearing their differences by embracing their individuality. Like every kid, they were afraid to be unlike their friends in any form, not realizing it’s what subconsciously attracted them to one another. Their personalities wrapped around each other and created a bond much like a finely braided rope. Anything could be conquered with it–solving the mystery of Crazy Pete, getting back at the Wormer boys, grief, the dream goal of buying a treehouse and even growing pains. As Sam spoke upon their adult reunion, years later, she was forced to confront her demons and short comings, but is reminded of her blessings thanks to her three best friends and the reminiscing of the summer which forever changed their lives. It’s a lesson we needed to hear before we as young girls embarked on making the same mistakes she made, and one we should be reminded of in our adulthood–making Now and Then, a film for the ages and reflective Saturdays.