The easiest way to describe the movie Now and Then is “Stand By Me but with girls.” So, of course, as someone who also grew up reading Stephen King (or wishing I was brave enough to read King when I was too young and saw the books on my uncle’s shelves) this movie was basically exactly what I needed. The nostalgia is strong. The soundtrack is on point. And the growing pains of being a girl are so poignant that I feel vulnerable just mentioning the title because I love this film so much.
The plot is pretty simple. A writer, played by Demi Moore (and whose child equivalent is Gabi Hoffman) comes back to her home town to talk to her friends from childhood. One of them is pregnant and about to have a baby; the other is a nurse who is taking care of the pregnant friend while her husband is away; and the last friend has become a movie star and makes the trip in style to visit all of them. When the friend has the baby, they take her–because of course it is a girl–back to the tree house that they bought one summer together, doing odd jobs. They also try to solve a mystery disappearance and death this summer, too, so that Stand By Me flair is obvious and palpable. (For those unaware, the original short story of King’s is called “The Body” and it is a more macabre rendition of boys going exploring one summer afternoon in order to find a body that the locals and a rival gang of kids have also found).
Simple plot. Okay acting. Basic themes, but oh wow, do these hit me in all the right spots. Now and Then didn’t do too well at the box office, and since I obviously got this movie as a child well after its initial release and while it was only a couple dollars in a discount bin, my expectations were low. Yet, when I looked at the cover–which includes the adult actors embracing their child selves–I couldn’t contain my excitement. My mother, I believe, bought the movie for me as something for a sleepover that I was going to have that weekend with my best friend. The moment she arrived at my house, we spilled over the cover and tried to figure out what child would grow up to what current Hollywood star (blissfully unaware that perhaps they were embracing their former child self, as it would make the most logical sense). As we put on the movie, we continued our guessing game, only now we were trying to find what child we were most like. And then, what woman we would grow up into.
You can already see how this movie got into my head. Without sisters or cousins, this was my gateway to understanding femininity. It talks about boys, love, sex, and puberty, and the opinions on all the girls are very different. One can’t wait to have boobs; the other binds her breasts with duct tape. One doesn’t understand sex and this is made so much worse by her mother’s explanation; the other wants to have sex with anyone; and another wants to date a boy but keeps it under wraps. The only thing missing is a frank discussion of periods, and of course, the obviously Sapphic vibes that comes off of the tomboy character. Since she grows up into Rosie O’Donnell, too, I was disappointed as an adult looking back on this film, only because they did not even once try to feel their way through lesbian crushes.
But that is my only criticism. I just love this movie for its vulnerability, its intimacy, and its ability to capture the feeling of being young and being a girl. It doesn’t matter that these girls are living through the 1960s and 1970s, and I obviously lived through the 1990s where we certainly did not spend as much time outside as they did, it still worked. The particulars really don’t matter. It’s that universal energy–of growing up, of being young–that resonates here, and I just love it.
Also: Janeane Garofalo plays a witchy woman that the girls become obsessed with, in order to help solve the mystery, and she reads their tarot cards. Pretty sure that was the first time I saw something like that, even though my father had a deck, and so I think most of my own practices were developed here. The diner scene where she pulls the Death card–even though Death does not mean what we think it means–still gives me shivers!