My Girl (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Howard Zieff|
|Produced by||Brian Grazer|
|Written by||Laurice Elehwany|
|Music by||James Newton Howard|
|Edited by||Wendy Greene Bricmont|
|Distributed by||Columbia Pictures|
|Box office||$121.5 million|
My Girl is a 1991 American coming-of-age comedy-drama film directed by Howard Zieff, written by Laurice Elehwany, and starring Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Macaulay Culkin, and Anna Chlumsky in her first role in a major motion picture that tells the story of an 11-year-old girl living in Madison, Pennsylvania, during the summer of 1972. The film's title refers to the classic 1964 song of the same name by The Temptations, which is also featured in the film's end credits. A book, based on the film, was written by Patricia Hermes. The film grossed $121,489,799 on a budget of $17 million. A sequel, My Girl 2, was released in 1994.
Vada Sultenfuss is an 11-year-old girl living in Madison, Pennsylvania, during the summer of 1972. Her father, Harry, is a widowed funeral director who does not understand Vada, so he constantly ignores her. Their house operates as the town funeral home, which has led Vada to develop an obsession with death. She regularly cares for her paternal grandmother, 'Gramoo', who has Alzheimer's disease and whose wandering mind also affects Vada. Phil, Vada's uncle, lives nearby and frequently stops by to help the family. Vada is a hypochondriac and spends time with her best friend, Thomas J. Sennett, an unpopular boy of the same age who suffers from various allergies. Other girls tease them about being more than just friends. Thomas J. often accompanies Vada when she visits the doctor, who assures her that she is not sick. Vada befriends Shelly DeVoto, the new makeup artist at Harry's funeral parlor, who provides her with guidance. Vada 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, it emerges that Vada fears that she killed her mother.
When Harry and Shelly start dating, this affects Vada's attitude towards Shelly. One night, Vada follows the pair to a bingo game and brings Thomas J. along to disrupt it. After their date, Harry confesses it to be his first date since his wife died. When Shelly asks about her, he explains she suffered complications during childbirth and died two days after Vada was born. On the Fourth of July, when Shelly's ex-husband Danny arrives, Vada hopes that he is there to take Shelly back. Instead, Harry steps in to defend Shelly when Danny becomes aggressive with her. Vada and Thomas J. come across a bees' nest hanging from a tree, which he 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. Later, Vada becomes distressed when Harry and Shelly announce their engagement at a carnival, leading her to contemplate running away with Thomas J. She is starting to see changes within herself and runs around screaming that she is hemorrhaging until Shelly explains to her that her first period is a completely natural process. As Vada realizes this only occurs with girls, she does not want to see Thomas J., who happens to come by shortly afterward. A couple of days later, Vada and Thomas J. are sitting under a tree by a river, where they share an innocent first kiss. Thomas J. later returns to find Vada's mood ring, but is attacked by a swarm of bees and dies from an allergic reaction.
Harry is left to deliver the news to Vada, who is so upset that she will not even leave her bedroom. When she attends Thomas J.'s funeral, she has to run away, but on hurrying to Mr. Bixler's house she discovers that he is about to get married. She then runs to the spot where she and Thomas J. kissed, to reflect on what has happened. When she returns home, everyone is relieved, including Shelly, whom Vada begins to accept as her future stepmother. Vada's grief also manages to mend the rift between her and Harry, who explains to Vada that her mother's death was not her fault and things like that can happen without explanation. Later, Vada and Harry see Thomas J.'s mother, who still struggles with her son's death. She gives Vada her mood ring, which Thomas J. had found at their favorite spot, while Vada comforts her. On the last day of her writing class, Vada reads a poem that she has written about the death of Thomas J. and then goes outside to ride bikes with her new best 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 roles of Thomas J. and Vada, respectively, in January 1991. Filming took place in Bartow and Sanford, 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.
When My Girl was submitted to the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) in September 1991, it was rated PG-13. Later that month, the film's producers won an appeal to have the film reclassified to a PG-rating.
My Girl was released on November 27, 1991.
The film currently holds a 53% score on Rotten Tomatoes. 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" , while 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.
- Groves, Don (February 22, 1993). "Hollywood Wows World Wickets". Variety. p. 85.