Do you remember how you felt when you first heard that the likes of Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, and the Hulk were actually going to appear in the same film together or that two living legends like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro were finally going to share the screen? Now imagine that you didn’t know about those team-up movies until two decades after the fact. That’s what happened to me a few days ago. I randomly saw a picture of a young Christina Ricci above the movie title Now and Then on Netflix. I asked my wife if she had ever heard of that movie and she said yes and got to introduce me to it, which is a rare occurrence. I’m usually the one who opens her eyes to the wonders of obscure films.
As I pored over this film’s impressive cast, I was amazed I had never heard of it before. It has one of the most talented collections of actors I have ever seen. It’s practically the Dream Team for moviegoers like me who grew up in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Let’s talk about all of the famous people in Now and Then and see if it’s worth a watch for that novelty alone.
The Dream Team of Child Actresses
I’m going to list off three child actresses who star in this film:
- Christina Ricci
- Thora Birch
- Gaby Hoffman
Gaby Hoffman might not be a household name, but you definitely know her from classics like Uncle Buck and Field of Dreams, which both came out in 1989. She played Macaulay Culkin’s little sister and Kevin Costner’s daughter, respectively. She also had small parts in the 1993 films Sleepless in Seattle and The Man Without a Face.
I remember Thora Birch most vividly from Patriot Games and Hocus Pocus, but I’m sure everyone else remembers her from Monkey Trouble. No, I’m just kidding. She also had memorable (though not always great) roles in American Beauty, Dungeons & Dragons, and Ghost World.
And Christina Ricci had an impressive start to her career, appearing in The Addams Family (1991) and its sequel, as well as Casper and Sleepy Hollow, among other things. Funnily enough, the same boy she kisses in Now and Then also plays Casper when he becomes a real boy for a single scene, so she got to kiss him twice in the same year! Interesting side note. But the film I’ll always remember her from is 2006’s Penelope because it’s endlessly rewatchable.
There’s one other child actress in Now and Then who didn’t achieve the same level of notoriety as her three costars, and that’s Ashleigh Aston Moore. But in 1995 she also appeared in Gold Diggers: The Secret of Bear Mountain, which starred another powerhouse duo of Christina Ricci and Anna Chlumsky of My Girl fame. She stopped acting in 1997 and sadly died in 2007 of pneumonia and bronchitis.
These are the best of the best when it comes to early ‘90s child stars. It’s an absolute delight to see all of these young actresses, who stood out in their own films, share scenes together. They’re fantastic. They have solid chemistry and they come across as lifelong friends who genuinely care about each other. Bringing these actresses together was a stroke of genius because each one seems to elevate her performance as a result of working with such top-tier talent.
Don’t Forget About the Grownups
Now and Then isn’t just notable for its astonishing collection of child actresses, but also their adult counterparts. The film tells its story mainly as a flashback in the summer of 1970, but it begins and ends in the present (1995). It has a similar feel to A League of Their Own and Stand by Me. In fact, it feels a lot like the female version of Stand by Me. Anyway, all of the adult actresses are famous in their own right:
- The adult counterpart to Christina Ricci is Rosie O’Donnell.
- The adult counterpart to Thora Birch is Melanie Griffith.
- The adult counterpart to Gaby Hoffman is Demi Moore.
- The adult counterpart to Ashleigh Aston Moore is Rita Wilson.
The young and old versions are incredibly talented actresses! And there are so many other famous actors and actresses who show up for just a scene or two. Brendan Fraser breezes in and out of the film as a transient Vietnam War veteran. Cloris Leachman plays one of the girls’ grandmother. Bonnie Hunt plays a mother who awkwardly tries to explain sex to her daughter. And Hank Azaria goes on a date with one girl’s mother. It’s a Hollywood who’s-who, which makes it all the more surprising that this film went under my radar for so long.
The thread that runs through the film’s plot doesn’t have an earth-shattering conclusion, but it’s satisfying enough. While watching Now and Then, I was curious to untangle the mystery behind a 12-year-old boy’s death, just like the four girls were. So I felt like we were on a journey together. The result of their investigation, while anticlimactic, felt true to the spirit of the overall story. It’s not about the destination, but about the journey. These girls are trying to process their feelings about puberty, boys, the nature of their friendship, family breakups, death, and other harsh truths of life. They don’t come to any definite conclusions about most of those issues, but Gaby Hoffman’s character experiences the most change.
At the start of the film, she’s used to her parents fighting every night; she even convinces herself that it’s comforting to hear their shouts because at least they’re consistent. But then, one night, her father leaves and never comes back. She refuses to come to terms with that loss or even to admit to her friends that it happened. Eventually the burden becomes too great, and she has to share it in a cathartic scene. She almost dies a little later and is saved by a mysterious old man who’s a social pariah in town. He helps her come to terms with the loss of her father by confiding in her what he learned in the years after his wife and son were senselessly murdered: “Things will happen in your life that you can’t stop, but that’s no reason to shut out the world.” It’s a valuable lesson that we can all learn from.
Now and Then isn’t a perfect movie. There’s definitely a disconnect between my engagement with the girls and their adult selves. The grownups are trying to be interesting and funny, but they come across as kind of sad. I suppose it’s because children have so much promise and hope for the future while we adults are mostly set in our ways and on a downward slope. There’s something captivating about watching kids figure out life and experience complex emotions for the first time. It makes me want to look back on my own life and think about how much I’ve changed and grown over the years.
I would have liked to see more of a direct connection between the two stories unfolding in the past and present. The event that brings the four friends back together should have been the old man’s death, which would have made more sense thematically than one of the friends giving birth. So much of the movie is about dealing with loss, whether it’s a parent or innocence or superstitions. It would have been perfect for Demi Moore’s character to open up to her friends about what she learned as a child from the old man at his funeral to show that he hadn’t died in vain. He’s now happily reunited with his wife and son. And the girls are reunited at the graveyard where their adventure began, not in the backyard where their treehouse was built, which wasn’t really the glue that held them together as I think it was supposed to symbolize.
There’s something heartfelt and raw about the emotions in this film. Despite its stumbling conclusion, it’s definitely worth watching. After all, it’s good to look back at the past now and then.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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