My Girl (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Howard Zieff|
|Produced by||Brian Grazer|
|Written by||Laurice Elehwany|
|Music by||James Newton Howard|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$59.5 million|
My Girl is a 1991 American comedy-drama film directed by Howard Zieff, written by Laurice Elehwany, starring Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Macaulay Culkin, and Anna Chlumsky in her feature debut. It is a coming-of-age story of a young girl who faces many different emotional highs and lows during the summer of 1972 in suburban Pennsylvania.
In the summer of 1972, in Madison, Pennsylvania, Vada Sultenfuss is an 11-year-old girl and a hypochondriac. Harry, Vada's father, is an awkward widower and funeral director who does not understand his daughter, so he constantly ignores her. Their house, which operates as the town funeral home, has led his daughter to develop an obsession with death. Vada regularly cares for her grandmother, 'Gramoo', who has Alzheimer's disease and whose wandering mind likewise affects Vada. Her Uncle Phil lives near by and frequently stops by to help the family.
Vada frequently spends time with her best friend, Thomas J. Sennett, an unpopular boy her age who suffers from various allergies. However, other girls tease the two, thinking they are more than just friends. Thomas J. often accompanies Vada when she visits the doctor, who assures her that she is not sick.
Vada's summer begins well. She befriends Shelly DeVoto, the new makeup artist at her father's funeral parlor, who provides her with guidance. She also develops a crush on her fifth-grade school teacher, Mr. Bixler, and hears about an adult poetry writing class that he is teaching. Vada steals some money from the cookie jar in Shelly's trailer to cover the cost of the class. When advised to write about what is in her soul, Vada fears that she killed her mother, who died two days after giving birth to her.
When Harry and Shelly start dating, this affects Vada's attitude towards Shelly. One night, Vada follows Harry and Shelly to a bingo game and brings Thomas J. along to disrupt it. On the Fourth of July, when Shelly's ex-husband Danny arrives, Vada hopes that he is there to take Shelly back, but to no avail. Vada becomes even more shocked when Harry and Shelly announce their engagement at a carnival, leading her to contemplate running away with Thomas J.
Vada is starting to see changes within herself. As she runs around screaming that she is hemorrhaging, Shelly politely explains to Vada that her first period is a completely natural process. As Vada realizes this only occurs with girls, she doesn't want to see Thomas J., who happens to come by shortly afterward. A couple of days later though, Vada and Thomas J. are sitting under a tree by the river, where they share an innocent first kiss.
Vada and Thomas J. come across a bee hive hanging from a tree, which Thomas J. decides to knock down. Vada loses her mood ring in the process, so they start looking for it, but the search is cut short as the bees start swarming, making them run away. Thomas J. later returns by himself and finds the ring. Unexpectedly, because he kicked the bee hive beforehand, the bees begin to swarm Thomas J. just as he finds the ring. Unable to escape, he dies from an allergic reaction.
Harry is left to deliver the tragic news to Vada, which devastates her so much that she will not even leave her bedroom. When she attends Thomas J.'s funeral, her emotions become so strong that she runs away. Vada hurries to Mr. Bixler's house, wanting to stay with him, and discovers that he is about to get married to someone else. She then runs to her and Thomas J.'s favorite spot near the tree to reflect on what has happened. When Vada returns home, everyone is relieved, including Shelly, whom Vada begins to accept as her future stepmother. Her grief also manages to mend the rift between her and her father. Harry explains to Vada that her mother's death wasn't her fault and things like that can happen without explanation.
Toward the end of summer, Vada and her father see Mrs. Sennett, who still struggles with her son's death. She gives Vada her mood ring back that Thomas J. had found and Vada gives Mrs. Sennett some comfort. On the last day of writing class, Vada reads a poem about the loss of her best friend before going out to spend time with her new friend Judy.
- Dan Aykroyd as Harry Sultenfuss
- Jamie Lee Curtis as Shelly DeVoto
- Macaulay Culkin as Thomas J. Sennett
- Anna Chlumsky as Vada Sultenfuss
- Richard Masur as Phil Sultenfuss
- Griffin Dunne as Mr. Bixler
- Ann Nelson as Gramoo Sultenfuss
The screenplay, written by Laurice Elehwany, was originally titled Born Jaundiced, and was purchased by Imagine Entertainment in July 1990. On August 24, 1990, it was reported in Daily Variety that the screenplay had been re-titled to I Am Woman, but was subsequently changed to its final title, My Girl, in the spring of 1991. Elehwany based the fictional setting of Madison, Pennsylvania on an unnamed small town in southern Pennsylvania, where she had been raised.
Culkin and Chlumsky were cast in the lead child roles of Thomas J. and Vada, respectively, in January 1991. Filming took place in Bartow and Orlando, Florida, beginning in February 1991. Exteriors of the Sultenfuss home were supplied by a real Victorian home in Bartow, while the house's interiors were built on a soundstage in Orlando.
Upon its submission to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in early September 1991, the film was given a PG-13-rating, having lost its appeal to earn a PG-rating. In late September, the film's producers won an appeal to have the film reclassified to a PG-rating.
My Girl premiered theatrically in the United States over the Thanksgiving weekend, on November 27, 1991. It opened at number 2 at the U.S. box office, showing at 2,080 theaters. It continued showing across the United States until January 1992, ultimately grossing $59,489,799.
Roger Ebert gave the film 3.5 stars out of 4, writing: "The beauty in this film is in its directness. There are some obligatory scenes. But there are also some very original and touching ones. This is a movie that has its heart in the right place." Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly praised Chlumsky's performance in the film, but conceded that "there’s something discomforting about a movie that takes the experience of an audacious, conflicted child and reduces it to: She needs to Confront Her Feelings. My Girl has some sweet, funny moments (the cast is uniformly appealing), yet it unfolds in a landscape of paralyzing, pop-psych banality."
Film critic Caryn James cited the film as being part of a "trend toward stronger, more realistic themes in children's films," specifically its representations of death, specifically that of a young child. David Kehr of the Chicago Tribune wrote of the film: "If My Girl helps stimulate family discussions of death and loss, it will certainly have done some good in the world. But at the same time, its aesthetic interest is virtually nil... Though My Girl seeks to stir large, devastating emotions, Zieff seems afraid to touch on anything too difficult or unpleasant, lest it alienate his audience. The results are curiously gutless and unmoving, as Zieff finds himself stuck with a sentimentality without substance, a poetry without pain." Peter Rainer of the Los Angeles Times was similarly critical of the film's "syrupy" elements, concluding: "The mixture of winsomeness and deadpan frights in My Girl ought to be weirder and more interesting than it is. After all, a girl who survives a household where bodies are embalmed in the basement is the kind of plucky heroine that movies about kids need right now. Or movies about adults, for that matter."
Janet Maslin of The New York Times was critical of the screenplay for being made up of "loose ends bound together only by intimations of mortality and family crisis," summarizing: "It's not hard for the maudlin My Girl to make its audience weepy at the sight of America's favorite kid in an open coffin. But it is difficult for this film to mix the sugary unreality of a television show with such a clumsy and manipulative morbid streak." Variety noted: "Plenty of shrewd commercial calculation went into concocting the right sugar coating for this story of an 11-year-old girl's painful maturation, but [the] chemistry seems right."
The soundtrack of the film contains several 1960s and 1970s pop hits in addition to the title song (by The Temptations), including "Wedding Bell Blues" (The 5th Dimension), "If You Don't Know Me by Now" (Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes), "Bad Moon Rising" (Creedence Clearwater Revival), "Good Lovin'" (The Rascals), and "Saturday in the Park" (Chicago). When Vada gets upset, she plugs her ears and sings "Do Wah Diddy Diddy", the Manfred Mann version of which is also included on the soundtrack album. In addition, Vada and Thomas J. play "The Name Game" and sing "Witch Doctor" in the film, and Vada has posters of the Broadway Musical Hair, The Carpenters, and Donny Osmond on her bedroom wall.
- "My Girl". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved June 15, 2015.
- Hermes, Patricia; Elehwany, Laurice (1991). My Girl (FIRST EDITION 4th Printing ed.). New York: Pocket Books. ISBN 978-0-671-75929-2.
- "My Girl". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
- Ebert, Roger (November 27, 1991). "My Girl". Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved June 15, 2015 – via RogerEbert.com.
- Gleiberman, Owen (December 6, 1991). "My Girl". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved August 29, 2018.
- James, Caryn (December 1, 1991). "FILM VIEW; Reality Comes With the Popcorn". The New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2018.
- Kehr, David (November 27, 1991). "`My Girl` Wallows In Weeping Generalizations". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved September 7, 2018.
- Rainer, Peter (November 27, 1991). "MOVIE REVIEW : A Conventional 'My Girl' Brings Out the Hankies". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved September 5, 2018.
- Maslin, Janet (November 27, 1991). "Review/Film; Growing Up Surrounded By Death". The New York Times. Retrieved August 30, 2018.
- "Review: 'My Girl'". Variety. 1991. Retrieved June 15, 2015.