Director: Howard Zieff
Cast: Anna Chlumsky, Macaulay Culkin, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Griffin Dunne
Released: November 27, 1991
Viewed in theaters: November 28, 1991
OMG, you guys, I love this movie so much!! This was my favorite movie as a kid, and, no joke, I probably watched it AT LEAST 30 times within two years of its release date (and I only saw it twice in the theater). Needless to say, I did own the VHS (hehe....that's a video tape for those of you who don't know...and if you don't know what a video tape is, go Google it!) Surprisingly, I don't own it on DVD. I don't know what happened to the VHS copy I had....probably wore it out since I watched it so many times! The last time I saw it was nine years ago so it's been awhile but of course I remembered everything since this movie is pretty much embedded in my brain. As I watched the movie, small details came back to me such as the grandmother randomly bursting into song or the hippie couple in the poetry class.
I think I related to this movie because I was the same age as Vada (Anna Chlumsky), the main character. We probably only had one thing in common (we both liked to write) as I would never randomly just go to the doctor like she always did. Since she grew up in a funeral parlor and her dad, Harry (Dan Aykroyd), is an undertaker, Vada is obsessed with death and dying. She always thinks something is wrong with her and that she must be dying hence all the trips to the doctor's office (to which she even questions him if all his medical certificates are even legit.)
I read the film's novelization before I saw the movie so I knew what would happen to Thomas J (Macaulay Culkin), Vada's best (and only) friend. But I wonder if I hadn't already known, if I would have picked up on it because there are so many clues! First of all, the whole girl's life is surrounded by death since her dad is an undertaker and her house always has a dead body in it whether it's in the basement getting embalmed (so creepy...I would freak out too if I got locked in that basement!) or if it's in the funeral parlor on display for a service. Then we get that scene where a small coffin is coming through the house and she asks her dad if it's for a child and he says, Of course not, that it's for someone who was really short. Then we get that scene of her and Thomas J in the garage when they come across a photo of her deceased mother and heaven is brought up and Thomas J asks her what she thinks heaven is like and and she explains to him this wonderful place to which he replies, "That doesn't sound so bad." Looking back, it's pretty obvious she's going to lose someone close to her.
The film takes place during the summer of 1972. I'm not sure if there was any significant reason why that year was chosen. I had no idea it took place in the '70s when I first saw it, I had just assumed it took place in "present day" 1991 so I was a little indignant when I found that out because how can I relate to kids growing up in the '70s? As much as I would have loved to see it take place in '91, the film would be significantly different as there are little touches that add to the decade it's set in. Obviously, the soundtrack for one thing. Also, her dad watches All in the Family and there are references to The Brady Bunch and The Partridge Family. And the wardrobe is very '70s. The one character who wears the most '70s style clothing is Shelly (Jamie Lee Curtis), the makeup artist who gets a job at the funeral parlor (only she thinks it's a beauty parlor when she interviews for the job and is a little skeeved out when she realizes her mistake, but takes the job anyway). She's always wearing something crazy like bell bottoms or denim jumpsuits with lots of loud, ugly colors that you can only find in the '70s.
Vada is not having a very good summer (and it's about to get a lot worse!) After Shelly starts working at the funeral parlor, her dad begins to date her. Vada does not like this because she is no longer getting all of her dad's attention and because she does not want a replacement for her mother who
Harry and Shelly get engaged, but we don't see the proposal onscreen, instead we find out the same way as Vada: when they are at a carnival and Vada wins a fish in a ring toss and while Shelly is holding the bag with the fish in it, Vada notices the diamond ring on her finger and asks Shelly where she got it with adding hopefully if she won it. (Um, I don't think so!) That's when her dad tells her they have something to tell her and Vada is very upset by this news. She decides to run away and after spending hours in a tree, she decides to go home and as she hops down, the camera pans to show that she was in a tree in her own yard the whole time!
Vada steals money from the secret stash Shelly keeps in her trailer. But this is before Vada finds out her dad is dating Shelly so it's not out of spite, but rather out of desperation as she needs $35 to pay for a writing class that her teacher, Mr. Bixler (Griffin Dunne), who she has the hots for, is teaching over the summer. I love the scene when she gets out her class photo where she's looking adoringly at her teacher and starts singing "Wedding Bell Blues". She asked her dad for the money but he refused to give it to her because she's always starting different hobbies, but never sees any of them through. When you put the DVD in, there's a journal on the home screen where you can select to play movie or go to a scene and this confused me so much because for the life of me I couldn't remember Vada keeping a journal so I figured I just must have forgotten about it (blasphemy, I know!) but there is no journal! That didn't make any sense! She does have a notepad she takes to the writing class so that would have made more sense. A mood ring or a bee hive would have made more sense!
Her first day at the writing class is so funny because she's this young kid in a class full of grow ups who are writing about very adult things. I love it when after that guy reads his poem about "You did not smell my rose, you did not see my painting", etc., that one woman goes, "Maybe she was out of town." And I love the awkward look on Vada's face when that blonde hippie woman is reading a poem about spending a night with her boyfriend, who's also in the class. "I can't fight it, there's no point. I wake up and light a joint." And after that Vada reads her cute little poem about ice cream. And I love the scene where they're all in a circle holding hands, trying to feel each other's "auras" and the one guy gets jealous when his girlfriend is having a moment with another guy.
Oh! And let's not forget the scene where Thomas J's mother returns Vada's mood ring to her and Vada tells her that her son will be okay because her mother will take care of him. I might just start crying right now! Oh, and the poem about the weeping willow, of course. Gets me everytime. This movie is so sad, you guys!!! But I love it so much!