I checked… ‘My Girl’ is still heartbreaking
Last night while scrolling through Netflix I was trying to decide what mood I was in. Apparently it was the “crying my eyes out” kind because I chose to watch 1991’s “My Girl.”
If you don’t already know about this film… good for you. To me it’s equal parts wonderful and also a soul crushing film that sometimes made me smile and chuckle some.
“My Girl” takes place in Madison, Pennsylvania during 1972 and centers around Vada (Ann Chlumsky) an 11-year-old tomboy. We see from the get-go that Vada is a unique young lady. For starters, her father Harry (Dan Aykroyd) is a funeral director and runs his business out of their home. And her mother passed away just a few days after her birth due to pregnancy complications.
Even though she was too young to remember this, her mother’s death was clearly the start of her obsession with death. Her father’s career only serves to further this.
Vada’s opening narration has her listing all the ailments she is “living with” that include a chicken bone lodged in her throat along with a variety of diseases.
We learn pretty quick that Vada is picking up on life threatening diseases and scenarios from her father’s job. She goes as far as believing she has prostate cancer after reading one of her father’s charts.
Although Vada is a bit of an oddball, she has the ever faithful Thomas J. (Macaulay Culkin) by her side through it all. Thomas is a quiet boy who tags along with Vada — sometimes unwillingly — on her adventures.
To round out the cast we have the ever popular Jamie Lee Curtis as Shelly, a divorcee who is hired by Harry to style hair and makeup prior to funeral services. Shelly and Harry develop a romance early on in the film, much to Vada’s annoyance. This dislike of the stylist leads to some shenanigans for both Vada and Thomas.
“My Girl” isn’t a fast paced movie but it can draw you in. It offers very real world conversations and issues, the central theme being death and how Vada copes with the concept. For Vada, she would almost prefer to believe she’s dying. At one point Thomas describes her attitude as “if you can’t beat them, join them.” Vada would sooner pretend she’s dying than learn to work through her grief.
Although we see some changes in her attitude through the film it’s very slow going until the final act. And for those who have watched it, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For those who haven’t, I’d stop reading now because there will be spoilers ahead.
Thomas J.’s passing really is a gut punch to the characters, and the audience quite frankly. I couldn’t help but demand he run as soon as he approached the bees nest he and Vada knocked over earlier. But the poor boy just wanted to find Vada’s ring she dropped.
Thomas’s death proves to be far too much for Vada. She finally is forced to feel the grief she has — mostly for the passing of her mother whom she never knew. Death became something more than just her dad’s profession or her mother’s loss. This was her best friend, one of her only friends for that matter.
The scene during Thomas J.’s funeral, when Vada finally comes face to face with her grief, shatters me every time. Even at a young age Chlumsky really managed to showcase the pain and confusion this 11-year-old felt. Her cries and demands for the adults to find Thomas J.’s glasses because “he can’t see without his glasses” crushes my heart and brings me to tears every time. And I know I’m not the only one that feels that way.
Seriously, Chlumsky knocked her performance out of the park. And for this to be one of her first roles is mind blowing. Vada’s entire character is so intricate and filled with multiple layers and she brought each of them to light throughout.
“My Girl” is overall a solid film. It has a consistent theme throughout and main plot point backed by subplots that add move depth to its characters. And it of course doesn’t skip on the emotions beyond just Thomas J.’s funeral.
All in all, I would definitely recommend this movie to those who may be in the mood for a good cry. You’ll feel better by the time the credits roll I swear.
“My Girl” is rated PG and can be watched on Netflix.
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Laura Jameson is a staff reporter for The Express.