Growing Up is Hard to Do
For some reason I never bothered with "My Girl" when it came out, it may have been to do with it featuring Macaulay Culkin who although has grown into a fine actor annoyed me just a little back then. Anyway nearly 30 years after "My Girl" was released I finally got around to watching it and whilst it charmed me with it's tale of a young girl growing up and facing some harsh realities combined with a touch of humour and a nostalgic soundtrack it didn't wow me like I had hoped. Maybe it was a little too slow, maybe the harshness of growing up was a little too sugar coated but there was something which stopped me from falling in love with "My Girl" like so many people have.
After her mother died shortly after giving birth to her, Vada Sultenfuss (Anna Chlumsky - Uncle Buck) has grown up with just her dad Harry (Dan Aykroyd - Ghostbusters II) and as he runs a funeral parlour from their home Vada has an obsession with death. But like many other 11 year old girl Vada has a crush on one of her teachers and enjoys spending the summer hanging out with her best friend Thomas J. (Macaulay Culkin - Home Alone) who is allergic to everything. When her dad hires Shelly (Jamie Lee Curtis - Trading Places) a beautician to work in the funeral parlour Vada has to face up to the reality that her Dad and Shelly share feelings for each other and that is not the only reality that she will have to face up to during a summer of growing up.
To put it simply "My Girl" is a coming of age story, it's about an 11 year old girl who in the course of her summer learns some harsh realities about life and in doing so grows up. We watch Vada act like any typical girl, she has a best friend in Thomas J. Sennett and they spend their summer exploring, playing in the woods and like most girls Vada also has a crush on her teacher. All of which is normal almost stereotypical but "My Girl" throws up some quirks because Vada has a fixation with death and illness thanks to her father owning a funeral parlour. This quirk gives "My Girl" a touch of uniqueness which allows it to be slightly different laying way too some light humour which fills the first three quarters of the movie as well as providing the setting for many of the realities she is forced to learn.
But at its heart "My Girl" is a movie about growing up and as such is not overly original, there have been plenty of similar movies which cover the same theme, some since 1991 but plenty before. But "My Girl" has a charm about it, it has an easy going nature so that all these lesson which young Vada learns flow in a natural and sometimes amusing way. It is at times a bit slow going, meandering along like a slow stream occasionally picking up impetus along the way as it turns a corner. And like a stream it has its bigger moments as it comes to a conclusion when Vada is forced to confront the hardest of realities.
There is no doubt that what "My Girl" is trying to achieve is a nice idea, it's the sort of movie which will not only resonate with those who have had to face up to the harshness of life at a young age but with it being set in 1972 has a nostalgic feel to it With a wonderful soundtrack and painting a picture of simpler times. But it does almost sugar coat things, it deals with harsh realities but never goes full out realistic on them. When scenes which should be highly emotional or full of anger occur it feels that the whole thing is being a little too restrained trying to keep the truth in check and giving us a more pleasant take on hard hitting subjects. It spoils it especially as the whole being too nice ruins the ending with a scene which is bordering on the corny.
Whilst "My Girl" ends up being a little too sugar coated for my liking the actual performances are quite impressive. Anna Chlumsky plays Vada perfectly delivering the cuteness of a young girl but with a more independent streak having grown up without a mother. It's a charming and believable performance delivering the naivety of a child but one whose obsession with death makes her quirky, often in a pleasant amusing manner.
Alongside Chlumsky are seasoned performers Dan Aykroyd as her father Harry Sultenfuss and Jamie Lee Curtis as beautician Shelly DeVoto who in one of the funnier scenes turns up at Harry's parlour answering an ad for a make up artist without realising it's for doing make up on the dead. There is a sweetness to not only the performances from Aykroyd and Curtis but also their characters which whilst pleasant to watch them interact it does give it that slight sugar coating feeling. Plus there is of course Macaulay Culkin as Vada's best friend Thomas J. Sennett who it has to be said is not only not annoying but quite impressive when it comes to delivering a decent performance.
What this all boils down to is that "My Girl" is a pleasant enough movie which covers the ground of a young child growing up and facing the harsh realities of life. It has an easy going charm about it and a great nostalgic feel with a great soundtrack. But although it tackles some tough realities it is a little sugar coated, it softens the emotional side of the story and for me it spoils things ever so slightly.