Look, it’s impossible to watch this movie and not compare it, at least a teensy bit, to Stand by Me, another coming of age story that stars four boys instead of four girls. But while both focus on friendship and the mysteries surrounding death, Stand by Me is clearly the darker of the two, both by benefit of being written by Stephen King and because the boys are taking a trip to see a DEAD BODY.
Compared to that, Now & Then seems much more light and frivolous, though there are some heavier storylines dealing with death and divorce. There’s room for both of them, though, in any child’s movie repertoire. Girls need coming of age stories just as much as boys do, and I guess they could have worse role models (i.e. a Kardashian) than the four young women featured in this movie.
ANYWAY, I’d skip this recap if you don’t have a soft spot for Devon Sawa or GIRL POWER.
The movie opens with a game of Red Rover. All of the neighborhood children are there, it would seem, and all but four girls are on one team. Those girls are screwed. But no! They call over the nose-picking weakling and he doesn’t break through their arms, but it’s mostly because they totally cheat! They’re not just holding hands, they’re clasping elbows, creating a DOUBLE ARM BARRIER which is not authorized in Red Rover. Everyone knows that.
|Yes. Yes, you do.|
Look, the adult-friend parts of this movie are THE WORST so here is what you need to know. Sam is a writer who wears a lot of black, Teeny is a movie star who has been married five times, Chrissy is stuck in the past and still lives in Shelby, Roberta lives both in Shelby and in sin with her ex-boyfriend. You can tell it's been a million years since they all hung out as a group, though it seems like Roberta and Chrissy are still friends. Poor Roberta.
Eventually (blessedly), the movie flashes back to 1970, when the girls are all 12-years-old. They do things like ride bikes! And swing on swings! And take sex quizzes in Cosmo while drinking Coke floats, which are served by Janeane Garofalo, who calls them boys and is apparently a witch! Anyway, their big goal for the summer is to save enough money to buy a tree house. Remember being 12? Jesus.
Later that night, they have a seance in the cemetery because SURE. I mean, actually the whole seance thing is realistic enough (my friends and I used to try to raise spirits all the time, and we also tried the “light as a feather, stiff as a board" thing from The Craft which I just decided I will be watching next) but sneaking out to do it at a cemetery in the middle of the night as a 12-years-old seems a bit much.
They try to raise the spirit of a young boy named “Dear Johnny,” and actually think they’ve done so when they see that his tombstone has been cracked in half. They also run into an old man named “Crazy Pete,” who rides around town on his bike and doesn’t talk to anyone. I don’t really think that’s weird but that could be because I try not to talk to other people unless absolutely necessary.
They decide to figure out what happened to Dear Johnny, so they take a long bike trip to the library in the next town over. Do you see how spoiled we are today? These girls rode at least 10 miles (judging by movie science...at one point they pass a sign that says Greenville: 9 miles YES I WAS PAYING VERY CLOSE ATTENTION) to discover (spoiler alert) basically nothing, which we could do in like 10 seconds of Googling.
The only thing they find out from these old newspapers is that Dear Johnny and his mother died tragically, but the rest of the pages had been torn out so they don’t know why or how. They also find out that Roberta’s mother, who died when Roberta was four, suffered a lot before she died, something that Roberta’s father had lied to her about. SAD.
|YOU MOCK MY PAIN.|
Their next step in solving the Dear Johnny mystery is to go to Janeane Garofalo and get their tarot cards read. Sure. They find out Dear Johnny was murdered.
Later, for no reason, there’s a softball game. Roberta, who rules at all sports (she’s basically Kristy Thomas), gets in a fight with a boy (who, I might add, wasn’t even PLAYING) who says girls can’t play ball. She’s winning the fight but her friends pull her off, at which point this Malfoy ACTUALLY SAYS, “It’s too bad your mother’s dead, someone needs to teach you to act like a girl.” WHAT A DICK. Roberta goes after him again but Samantha throws her out of the way and tackles him instead. FIGHT. This is the best part of the movie, you guys. You remember that “you play ball like a girl” kid from The Sandlot? These girls would have eaten him for breakfast.
Unfortunately, Samantha’s post-fight high doesn’t last long because she goes home to find her mom on a date with Hank Azaria. She...doesn’t handle it well. She goes to Teeny’s and they decide to try out the new treehouse (which...I guess they finally got?) and talk about how their parents don’t know anything because:
Meanwhile, Roberta is getting first kissed by Devon Sawa. It’s pretty adorable and he doesn’t even turn into a ghost afterward. She threatens to kick his ass if he tells anyone.
On their way home from the treehouse, Teeny and Sam get caught in a rainstorm. Sam almost drowns in a sewer drain but DON’T WORRY she’s saved by Crazy Pete. Now they like Crazy Pete! Yay!
The next day, the girls are painting a garage door for treehouse money, even though JUST TWO SCENES EARLIER we’d established that they’d already gotten the treehouse. SHENANIGANS. Devon Sawa walks by and makes googly eyes at Roberta. I like to think he’s the boyfriend referenced earlier in the movie.
Later that day, they go to Sam’s Grandma Cloris Leachman’s house. They ask her what happened to Dear Johnny and his mother, but she refuses to tell them anything and rushes them out of the house. They wait for her to leave so they can break in and go through all the old newspapers in the attic. Oh man, my grandma totally would have kicked my ass if I’d ever broken into her house but maybe this kind of thing was OK in the 70s.
They find an old newspaper that says Dear Johnny and his mother were shot to death by a robber PLUS ALSO Roberta freaks out and breaks a mirror because she has a lot of feelings re: her dead mother. Sam then finally tells the other girls that her parents are getting divorced. This glimpse into the real world, all full of evil and suffering, leads the girls to make a pact, that they’ll always be there for each other, no matter what happens.
That night, they go to the cemetery to hold another seance. The groundskeeper catches them and tells them that the graveyard isn’t a playground which...OK, good point. He was the one who knocked over Johnny’s tombstone and broke it. According to the voiceover, this was the day they stopped their make-believe games (booooo!), so they throw away their seance gear and go home.
Sam goes back to put some flowers on Johnny’s grave. She runs into Crazy Pete and realizes that he was Johnny’s dad. It’s treacly and obvious but still...oof. I always forget that coming of age stories focus so much on death and loss until I actually watch one. I guess that’s what forces us to grow up. We realize that terrible things don’t just happen to other people. Death will come to those we love. We’ll lose people throughout our lifetimes and there’s nothing we can do about it and now I’m depressed and need to go lie down.
With that, we are rudely forced back to the present and the mostly terrible women the girls have grown up to become (this might be the most depressing thing about the movie). Chrissy has her baby (Roberta delivers it, which is weird, right?) and they all ooh and ahh because LADIES LOVE BABIES. The movie ends with another pact, this time to see each other more often, and another game of Red Rover, which they play with a bunch of neighborhood kids who just magically show up (maybe they came out of that field in Iowa, I don’t know).
When I decided to watch this movie for the first time in, oh, let’s say 15 years, I did not have high hopes, but I’m surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Though, the bits of the movie featuring the adults could use some work or, better yet, be cut out completely. It was as if the movie’s creators were less focused on the emotional heft of the movie than on, “ooh, look what famous actresses these girls grew up to be!"
Also, it was fitting that I watched this during the summer, because this movie really made me miss summer vacation.
Also, also, just because it's SLIGHTLY relevant: