My Girl (1991)

Posted by on Jan 2, 2012 in No Boys Allowed | 0 comments


Disclaimer: Some swearing, sexy poetry, and lots of non-violent death.

On the surface, My Girl is a lighthearted comedy about childhood that intends to recycle the appeal of films like Stand By Me, A Christmas Story, and The Sandlot by topically reaching current adolescents and nostalgically reaching their parents (since it’s set in the 70s and has a classic rock soundtrack). But somewhere beneath the innocent exterior the film unveils deep, dark truths about life, made even more touching when experienced through the eyes of an 11-year-old hypochondriac.

“I was born jaundiced; once I sat on a toilet seat at a truck stop and caught hemorrhoids; and I’ve learned to live with this chicken bone that’s been lodged in my throat for the past three years. So I knew dad would be devastated when he learned of my latest affliction,” she tells us in the opening monologue, then turns to her father. “Dad, I don’t want to upset you, but my left breast is developing at a significantly faster rate than my right. It can only mean one thing: cancer. I’m dying.”

To which her attentive father responds, “OK, sweetie. Hand me the mayonnaise out of the fridge.”

Vada (Anna Chlumsky) has a strange preoccupation with illness, death, and the macabre. Growing up in the environment of her father’s (Dan Aykroyd) funeral parlor, Vada gets her kicks by taking schoolmates’ money and scamming them into seeing the “rocking dead.” It’s also not unusual for her to frequent the small Pennsylvania town’s physician, convinced she’s come down with the same symptoms as her father’s recently embalmed subjects. At first these eccentric character traits seem funny, and you’ll certainly laugh, but we soon learn that she thinks she killed her mother, who died of complications from childbirth, and her father has very little sympathy left for the living. For a brief period she can confide in her lounge-singing Gramoo (Ann Nelson), until she goes off her rocker, and new make-up artist (Jamie Lee Curtis), until she starts dating Vada’s widowed father. Her only friend in the world becomes allergic-to-everything Thomas J. (Macaulay Culkin), but that comes to an abrupt halt in an infamous plot twist I won’t divulge here. The entire film takes place over a critical summer in Vada’s life, after years of bottled up emotions finally explode and the world as she knows it comes crashing down.

In between all the heavy, life-altering moments are some cute/funny ones, such as Vada’s sexy makeover and runway walk on her porch, a bingo fight, Vada’s first period and violent reaction, her first kiss, and a poetry class with hippies. “Feel my aura,” one tells her. “I don’t think I’m allowed to,” she coyly responds.

After Trading Places, Curtis and Aykroyd exhibit believable chemistry, mirrored and possibly out-done by newcomers Chlumsky and Culkin (following Home Alone). These characters are flawed, not by Howard Zieff’s direction or Laurice Elehwany’s screenplay, but in the way that every living person is flawed. The exciting part of watching these characters is seeing them develop and grow, as they deal with love and loss. The 1994 sequel continues the bleakitude, as Vada ventures to learn more about her late mother, but lacks the heart and poignancy of this youthful comedy-drama.

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