Re-Watch: My Girl (1991)

My Girl
Director: Howard Zieff
Writer: Laurice Elehwany
Cast: Anna Chlumsky, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Macaulay Culkin, Richard Masur, Griffin Dunne, Ann Nelson
Seen on: 1.6.2021

Vada (Anna Chlumsky) is a bit of a strange child. Her father Harry (Dan Aykroyd) runs a funeral parlor from their home, her grandmother (Ann Nelson) has dementia, and her mother tried when Vada was born. This has given Vada an obsession with death, constantly thinking that she will be dying soon. She spends her summer cycling around town with her best friend Thomas J (Macaulay Culkin), trying to impress her teacher Mr Bixler (Griffin Dunne) with whom she is in love, and also watching her father fall in love with the new make-up artist he hired, Shelly (Jamie Lee Curtis). After this summer, life will never be the same again for her.

My Girl is a sweet – maybe at times too sweet – film that carries quite an emotional punch. But despite the difficult things, it’s a warm film that seems to insist that despite everything, life is good and full of beauty.

The film poster showing Vada (Anna Chlumsky) and Thomas J (Macaulay Culkin) laughing.

My Girl is one of those formative childhood films for me (though I hadn’t seen it in decades, probably), so I knew what I would be in for. Instead of shielding me from the emotional impact, that knowledge just meant that I started sobbing earlier, devastated in the knowledge of what was to come.

But I guess I was kind of looking for a good sob, otherwise I wouldn’t have put the film on at all. And it is a really good cry, but at the same time, there is something deeply reassuring in the film. Yes, bad things happen, and those bad things are not okay, or easy, or unimportant. But they can be borne, and there can still be joy despite the marks they leave.

Vada (Anna Chlumsky) and her family having a July 4 barbecue.

Vada is a wonderful character and the film hits just the right tone: yes, love is already a topic for Vada, and even kissing is becoming something of interest. She gets her period in the film. But she is 11 years old, and she is still a child. She plays at being more grown, but the film never pretends like it’s anything more than play.

And in the background is the supercute romance between Harry and Shelly that contrasts Vada’s playing with an actually adult lovestory, one that was much more important to me now, seeing the film as an adult.

In short, My Girl is not a childhood love I need to regret (despite being very white and very suburban and very conservative). It still works.

Vada (Anna Chlumsky) and Thomas J (Macaulay Culkin) sharing a very innocent kiss.

Summarizing: super sweet.

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