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Monday, April 30, 2012

My Girl

ARTIST:  The Temptations
SONG:  My Girl
ALBUM:  The Temptations Sing Smokey
DATE RELEASED:  December 21, 1964

I think this might be one of the few times in which I’ll start off a blog entry with a music video.  While the song itself isn’t the subject of discussion for today, it is linked to the Monday matinee for today.  And, it’s also a movie that fits into the special BEST FRIENDS week.

This song by the Temptations hit the top of the charts in early 1965, and it happened to be the band’s first number one hit.  It also happens to be a song that is heavily featured in the soundtrack of today’s movie.

Set in the summer of 1972, our feature presentation focuses on an eleven year old girl and the various adventures that she has with her best friend.  But Vada Sultenfuss isn’t your typical preteen girl.  She has a few...quirks shall we say.

And we’ll be taking a look at every single quirk that made Vada who she was, as well as the only friendship that she had by her side.

The movie we’re going to be looking at happens to be named after that famous Temptations hit.  That would be the 1991 coming of age film, “My Girl”, starring Anna Chlumsky, Dan Ackroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Macaulay Culkin.

The film was released on November 27, 1991, and did fairly well at the box office, making almost $60 million on a budget of $15 million.  The movie was Anna Chlumsky’s first role as a major star (her debut was a bit part in the movie “Uncle Buck”, which coincidentally also starred Culkin), and she actually won an MTV Movie Award for her role in the film (which she shared with Culkin...but more on that a bit later).

The movie takes place in the town of Madison, Pennsylvania, and almost immediately, we notice that Vada Sultenfuss (Chlumsky) is not like the average young girl.  Rather than play with Barbie dolls and easy bake ovens, she’s more at ease being a tomboy.  Her most prized possession is her mood ring, which for some reason always stays black in colour, but nevertheless, she’s never seen without it.

Oh, and she happens to live in a house that doubles as a funeral parlour.

Vada’s father, Harry (Ackroyd) works as a funeral director, and because the Sultenfuss residence happens to be the place where Harry works, Harry often brings his work home with him.  While Vada eats breakfast in the kitchen, there’s at least one dead person just a couple of rooms over.

Sounds a bit creepy, right?  I know I would be freaked out over it.

If you thought that living in a funeral home would affect Vada’s childhood, you’d be correct in your assumption.  Because Vada was surrounded by death on any given day, she sort of developed a bit of an obsession with death.  She also developed a case of hypochondria, believing that she was coming down with various diseases or deformities, likely as a result from hearing about how the people who were being prepared for funerals had died.

But we also learn that Vada’s feelings about death began at a very early age.  When Vada’s mother gave birth to Vada, there were severe complications, and she ended up dying.  Vada had believed that she had killed her mother, but she never really talked about it with anybody.  As much as she tried to talk to her father about things that were troubling her, her father seemed uninterested, and he didn’t know how to relate to her.  It was a frustrating situation for Vada, but she coped as best as she could.

Luckily, she could count on her one true friend, a young boy close to Vada’s age named Thomas J. Sennell (Culkin).  Although other kids made fun of Thomas for being geeky and unpopular, none of that stuff mattered to her.  Thomas J got who she was and liked her anyway.  To Vada, Thomas was “intellectually stimulating”, and that was good enough for her.

As the summer of 1972 kicked off, Vada was in a good place.  Although she still visited the doctor’s office at least once a week for a new “health scare”, Vada was determined to make this summer a good one.  She became friends with her father’s newest co-worker, a young woman named Shelley DeVoto (Curtis).  Shelley came on board as the hair and make-up artist for the Sultenfuss funeral parlour, and immediately grew close to both Vada and Thomas J.  Vada also discovered that the teacher that she was crushing on was teaching a creative writing course during the summer, and Vada was determined to secure herself a spot in the class...even if it meant raiding Shelley’s trailer for the $35 necessary to enroll. 

But Vada was also starting to see her friend, Thomas J, in a whole new light. 

Sure, at the beginning, the two of them did the same things that most eleven year olds did.  They rode their bicycles, went fishing, and drank soda out of the same aluminum glasses that I remember my grandparents owning at one time.

But, Vada and Thomas J shared something very close and personal.  They even became “blood brothers” for life.  I wonder how many kids during the early 1970s did the same thing that Vada and Thomas J had done?

As time passed, things began to change for Vada.  Shelley and Harry started dating each other, and Vada was stunned to hear that they were engaged after just weeks together.  Vada wasn’t sure exactly how to handle this bit of news, and she sought advice from Thomas J, which eventually would lead to this moment.

Everyone remembers their first kiss.  And for Thomas J, it was a fantastic moment for him. 

(It was also a fantastic moment for Culkin and Chlumsky, who won the MTV Movie Award for Best Kiss in 1992!)

At that moment, he began to see Vada in a whole new light, and Vada’s reaction to the kiss pleased him enough that he had to do something nice for her. 

Thomas J remembered that during an incident where they shot each other with water guns and threw rocks at beehives, Vada lost her prized mood ring, and Thomas J thought that it would make Vada incredibly happy if he found it for her. 

Sadly, Thomas J would end up meeting a horrible fate.  The bees didn’t take too kindly to the two kids destroying their home, and they swarmed a defenceless Thomas J, who unbeknownst to him had a severe allergy to bee venom.

Suddenly, Vada’s whole world comes crashing down.  The one person who always believed in her, who was always nice to her, who always stood by her no matter what was gone.  She had no idea what she was going to do without her best friend.  Despite Shelley bending over backwards to console her, and despite a little neighbourhood girl named Judy offering up her condolences, Vada was inconsolable.  It all came to a head when Vada made an appearance at Thomas J’s funeral.

All the while, Shelley was growing increasingly frustrated at Harry’s lack of understanding towards Vada.  She got into a huge argument with Harry at Thomas J’s funeral, where Shelley begged Harry to see that life wasn’t always about death, and that he shouldn’t ignore the living...especially when Vada needed him the most.

Now, you might believe that I have spoiled the ending of this film by revealing the ultimate fate of Thomas J.  However, there’s so much more to this film than that.  In the end, Vada comes to a few conclusions about herself, and she comes to an understanding with each person that she was close to.  Oh, and there’s one final “goodbye” to the past, and I’ll give you a hint.  It involves the prized mood ring that Vada loved...the same ring that played a role in the terrible fate that befell Thomas J.  I've also enclosed a chart below corresponding with mood ring colours, and well...if you watch the movie, this becomes an important piece of symbolism.

I’ll be the first one to admit it.  This movie really did move me.  I remember watching the movie for the first time when I was right around the same age as Vada and Thomas J (I was ten when it was released in theatres), and immediately getting choked up.  I didn’t care.  It was such a powerful film, and Anna Chlumsky did such a fantastic job as Vada.  You really felt her emotion and her pain over losing such an important person in her life.

It’s tragic enough to lose a dear friend who you have shared so much with.  I felt that same pain this past December when I had to say goodbye to someone who I had known for well over ten years.  But to have to go through that pain as a child is absolutely unimaginable.  For Vada Sultenfuss, it was probably the single worst moment that she had ever had to face in all of her eleven years.

But despite losing her best friend, Vada still cared very deeply for Thomas J.  Although Thomas J was physically gone, Vada knew that somewhere out there, he was always watching over her. 

I think “My Girl” is the kind of movie that demonstrates the very friendship that all of us want to have in our lives.  And even if something happens where one of the friends passes away, as long as the other one keeps holding on to the memories, and remembers all the good times that they shared, does this really mean that the friendship is truly over?  A point to ponder for sure.

But consider this.  A sequel to the film, “My Girl 2” was released three years after the first.  And in the sequel, Vada has now become a livelier and more mature teenage girl.  But, Vada never did forget about her fallen friend.  And, if you watch the sequel really closely, you’ll see that Thomas J was never far from her mind.

Seriously, watch “My Girl”.  I can’t think of a better film that showcases the subject of friendship.  But, you may want to buy a box of Kleenex before viewing.

1 comment:

  1. This is beautiful music, the movies are wonderful and I love Anna and Macaulay Culkin