Thirty Years of ‘My Girl’: Friendship, Firsts, and Tears

by Adina Bernstein
My Girl

There are first experiences in life we never forget. The first kiss; the first time someone you love dies; your first best friend. Though they may seem small in retrospect, those developments can feel earth-shattering at the time, which My Girl explores wonderfully.

Macaulay Culkin: The Old Millennial’s Child Star

In the early 1990s, the child star of the moment was Macaulay Culkin. Back in the day, he was everywhere. Home Alone and Home Alone 2: Lost in New York made him a star. The Good Son brought out the creep factor in him. His role as Thomas J. Sennett in My Girl was the perfect mixture of youthful innocence with seeds of growing up.

A Solid Coming of Age Romance/Drama That Has All of the Feels

My Girl merges two different genres: the coming-of-age narrative and the drama. Within a coming-of-age story, the screenplay has the potential to over-exaggerate the moments that take us from childhood to early adulthood. For a drama film, the sap factor can quickly go from 1-10. It is, therefore, up to the screenwriter(s) to hit all of the plot points without going too far.

Thankfully, writer Laurice Elehwany does not go over the edge. The friendship between the pre-teen protagonist, Vada Sultenfuss (Anna Chlumsky), and her best friend, Thomas J. is sweet and age-appropriate. At the time of the film’s release, I was a year younger than the characters. I remember instantly connecting with Vada and Thomas. It was as if I was watching myself on screen. As an adult, this movie is the perfect reminder of a simpler time when the grey areas of life are just beginning to appear.

Death is a tough subject to write about, whether in real life or in fiction. The approach taken with My Girl is sensitive, heartfelt, and calls for a box of Kleenex to be readily available. The scene that breaks my heart is when Vada runs into the room in which Thomas J.’s funeral is being held. Up to this point, she vaguely understands the concept due to the early loss of her mother and her father running a funeral home. But seeing her best friend lying in the coffin makes it real. There are some adults who are unable to deal with the unexpected loss of a loved one. The simple and honest grief of someone so young looking death in the face is very likely to turn on the waterworks.

If there is one thing I appreciate in My Girl, it’s the appeal to both children and adults, a rare feat in screenwriting. The adult narrative is not over the head of the younger viewer and the child narrative is not too simple for the older viewer. I also love the romance between Harry (Dan Aykroyd), Vada’s widower father, and Shelly DeVoto (Jamie Lee Curtis). It is just enough of a romantic touch without being too overt. Unlike other movies in which a will they or won’t they question is forced into the story, it just enough to keep everyone entertained without being too predictable.

Vada Sultenfuss is the Female Character We Should Be Seeing More of

The problem with many female characters in Hollywood, both in the past and the present is the 2D character boxes they are put into with little to no room to move. Though it is getting better, the issue still persists. At the outset, Vada Sultenfuss may not appear to be revolutionary.

When we reach our pre-teen years, the idea of dating/romance starts to turn from some icky to becoming an idea we are just slightly curious about. It wouldn’t have been much of a stretch for Elehwany to turn Vada into a younger version of Lydia Bennet. But she wisely took another path. Vada is smart, curious, and more aware of the world around her than many eleven-year-olds. When she signs up for the writing class led by her teacher, Mr. Bixler (Griffin Dunne), it is not to impress him. Though she does state she will marry him one day, she is taking the adult class because she wants to improve her writing skills. I can’t think of many girls that age who would say the same thing or have the confidence to be the only young person in a similar situation.

I saw a fair number of movies when I was a kid. But there are only a few of them in which not only do I remember the film, but I remember how I felt. My Girl has lasted thirty years because it’s a genuine reflection of what it is to be a preteen girl, and the changes that are only beginning to occur.

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1 comment

Nick Kush March 3, 2021 - 9:08 am

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