Monday, October 12, 2009
Remember the Time: Now and Then
I can remember seeing Now and Then in the theatres with so much clarity it's a little scary. I was probably wearing my favorite plaid shirt, to camouflage the boobs that I despised (like Christina Ricci's Roberta). My mom drove us because we were a year away from our own licenses. It was a Friday night and we had to wait in line, because our town was tiny and what else was there to do? And most of all, I remember who I was with: my best friend Addie. We were so excited for a girl-centric friendship movie, because we considered ourselves the only feminists in our Catholic high school. And naturally, we adored Now and Then: for the rest of the year when things got rough, we'd remind each other, "It's normal for things to be shitty."
For a film that, as I recall, received very little marketing, there were a lot of interesting women involved. Real '90's power players, young and old. Not only does the pre-fembot Demi Moore show up onscreen as adult Samantha (her sultry voice carrying a lovely weight in the film's narration), she also executive produced the film with her oft-partner Suzanne Todd. The director, Leslie Linka Glatter, has helmed several episodes of excellent television series such as Six Feet Under and most recently Mad Men. And the 99% female cast is fantastic: Moore, Melanie Griffith (before she got all pufferfish scary), Rosie O'Donnell (before she got all militant), and Rita Wilson as the adult versions of their equally strong younger counterparts: Gaby Hoffmann, Thora Birch (recovered from the Macaulay Culkin mushmouth she had as a tot in All I Want for Christmas), Christina Ricci, and an unknown Canadian named Ashleigh Aston Moore (who died of respiratory failure in late 2007). Plus, Janeane Garofalo, Bonnie Hunt and Cloris Leachman pop up in fun cameo roles (not to mention Demi Moore's own daughter, Rumer Willis).
Like I said, the film wasn't marketed much. I remember previews and ads MAYBE a week before the release date. It was one of those movies which the studio clearly had no idea what to do with. (This is starting to become true for Whip It as well.) Probably all the estrogen. Scaaaaaaaary! A film with that many cool girls and women couldn't POSSIBLY have anything to say to the public. Right?
Among the many inequities in pop culture is this glaring annoyance: a film such as Stand By Me is lauded and praised for its sepia-toned illusion-shattering but lesson-learning portrayal of the child-teen brink. Now and Then, on the other hand, while plenty loved by many women I know, gets written off as a "chick flick." Don't get me wrong, I love Stand By Me. However, Now and Then not only has many similar elements--sexual confusion, broken families, and a supernatural element, related largely in flashback form--but is just as well-acted and affecting without being manipulative. Only it's about chicks, so it's not seen as universal. Bull. Shit.
The plot is simple and straightforward: four far-flung childhood pals reunite in their old Indiana suburb and recall an eventful summer of their youth. Samantha (Moore/Hoffmann), now a hardboiled sci-fi writer, remembers her parents' divorce, a neighborhood first. Roberta (O'Donnell/Ricci), a sardonic doctor, was then a tough tomboy who taped down her tits while secretly mourning her mother's death. Teeny (Griffith/Birch), now a sexpot actress, stuffed her chest with pudding-filled balloons and watched drive-in movies from her rooftop. And Chrissy (Wilson/Aston Moore), an expectant mom, was intolerant of naughty words and obsessed with gardening, thanks to a metaphor-heavy sex talk from her well-meaning but misguided mother. In the summer of 1970, they are twelve years old and have two goals: raise money for a fantastic treehouse (essentially a room of their own), and solve the mystery of a long-ago local death involving a boy their age known only as Dear Johnny. All set to a background of pastels and love beads, and a groovy 70's soundtrack featuring not one but two Jackson 5 songs (yay!).
Most people use the term "tearjerker" to describe an emotional film. I prefer "noseprickler." As in, my nose gets all prickly the way it does before I get all choked up. Now and Then has plenty of noseprickling moments. After all, Roberta and Samantha are dealing with absent parents, carefully choosing what they do and don't reveal to their friends. All four girls encounter lost souls such as a Purple Heart winner-turned-drifter (Brendan Fraser) and a lonely old man who's not as creepy as he seems, both of which alter their worldviews in ways that aren't always welcome. Samantha in particular learns that "things happen beyond our control, but that's no reason to shut out the world"--revealing as an adult that it's taken her decades to fully process that advice. And at the conclusion of the summer, the girls have met both their summer goals, but with very different results than they planned: mainly, the inevitability of their growing apart.
Don't get me wrong, there is as much hilarity. Not only do the four younger actresses present believable relationship dynamics, but they really bring the funny. The girls may squabble, tease and form alliances within their quartet, but they band together with a vengeance against the common enemy: boys, especially the Wormer brothers (adult Samantha dryly notes, "everyone in the neighborhood felt sorry for their mother"). Also, a sexist softball-game spectator who orders Roberta to "go home and play with your dolls" earns a well-deserved physical and verbal beatdown.
Less than a year after we watched Now and Then, like the girls in the film, Addie and I gained independence from each other. We definitely stayed close and had more sleepovers. However, we started seriously pursuing our passions: music for her and theatre for me. She started dating the next semester; that summer, I fell in love. Thanks to Facebook, we've very recently reconnected. She's moved back to our old stomping grounds and has a husband and child, I'm a single gal in the city. But like lovers always have Paris, Addie and I always have Now and Then.
Sadly, I have to wonder if a film like Now and Then could even be made today. The story, while important and universal, isn't the sort of box-office and/or Oscar bait that studios crave these days. On the other side of the coin, it's not quirky enough to be an indie. Plus, the fact that there are boys' naked butts automatically disqualifies it from Disney. However, I'm really not sure that today's young actresses could carry almost an entire film as subtly and skillfully as Ricci, Hoffmann, Birch and Aston Moore. So maybe, even though it never got the mainstream attention it deserved, Now and Then was in fact, in the right place at the right time.