82. My Girl

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Movie: My Girl

Release Date: November 27, 1991

Director: Howard Zieff

Starring: Anna Chlumsky, Dan Aykroyd, Jamie Lee Curtis, Macaulay Culkin, Griffin Dunne.

Tag Lines: “A funny and moving family film!”

“When your Dad’s an undertaker, your Mom’s in heaven, and your Grandma’s got a screw loose…it’s good to have a friend who understands you. Even if he is a boy.”

Relevance: ‘My Girl’ was released in the Fall of 1991 to lukewarm critical reviews. It was however a surprise box office success, eventually making over $121 million dollars worldwide, enough to spawn a sequel in 1994. The movie flew way under my radar (I blame college) and I didn’t see the movie until my summer break in 1992 via Blockbuster video. Little did I know, I would get a lot more than I bargained for.

I thought the movie was going to be a simple little comedy about an eleven year old girl growing up in the 1970’s. The trailer looked cute and its stars, Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis, were definitely favorites of mine. Of course there was also the Macaulay Culkin/’Home Alone’ factor (see 259. Home Alone) as I had just recently seen that movie and fell in love with its star. Plus, the song “My Girl” was one of my all time favorite Motown classics. Once it got stuck in my head, it was a difficult one to get out and I found myself humming or singing along every time I saw the trailer. So starting the movie, I wasn’t expecting much more from the film than a chuckle or two. However, one-hundred, two minutes later I was emotionally devastated.

Death was such a bizarre topic and one that never got talked about enough when I was a kid. There were only four deaths that impacted my life before seeing ‘My Girl’ in 1992, pretty lucky I guess when you come to think of it. My paternal Grandmother passed away in 1978 when I was seven years old. I barely remember her, just images of her flash through my head, but I do remember her funeral. I remember sitting on my Grandfather’s lap next to the casket and him saying, “Doesn’t she look beautiful?” I also remember overhearing my mom tell my dad that I was old enough to understand what was going on. I wasn’t and I didn’t.

The second death involved a friend’s older brother who was hit by a car on his bike, eventually succumbing to his wounds. It was sad, but again my memory about him and the situation was very fuzzy. I do however remember the phone call when my mom received the news. The look of devastation in her eyes as she cried was something I knew I would never forget. The third death was someone I barely knew, but he was in my High School class, so relevant by association. He died, I believe in a drowning accident, between my Freshman and Sophomore years. He was in my homeroom, but we didn’t have any other classes together. He was kind of a bully, so I also kept my distance. Again, it was tragic that he lost his life, but it was a death that still seemed surreal and one that didn’t impact my daily routine.

The fourth death happened in January of 1992 and was probably the most impactful one. It was of a teacher and priest that I knew growing up in the 1980’s. He was a young priest (I went to his ordination) and was in charge of the youth group, which I was a member. So he was more of a friend than a priest really. He was funny, friendly and most kids and parents loved having him around. As is common in the priesthood, he was moved to another church, but through friends we always kept in touch and knew his whereabouts and how he was doing. Unfortunately he got cancer and passed away at the young age of thirty-eight. Because I was on semester break, I was able to attend his funeral services and spent time with friends and reminisce about the fun, laughter and joy that Fr. Rich brought into our lives.

Obviously I was raised Catholic, so my family’s beliefs were that when we died we went to heaven to hangout with God and Jesus and all of our friends and family members that had died before us. I wasn’t sold on that belief, but I went along with it. It was either that or argue with my mom and you never won those arguments. There were so many questions that I wanted to ask and so many things I wanted and needed to know, but I never pushed the topic. Because of that, dying scared the shit out of me. So when I watched ‘My Girl’ in the summer of 1992, death was fresh on my mind, but I didn’t know that a cute comedy was going to smack that theme right in my gut.

The movie was beautifully directed and acted and it truly was a heartwarming, fun, entertaining laugh out loud comedy. That is, up until the last twenty minutes or so. After the tragic twist, I watched with blurry vision as the tears streamed down my cheeks. It was a devastating story line to watch especially because death was still so fresh on my mind. After watching the film, I read a few reviews of it and apparently there was a brouhaha of sorts regarding the film. Since it was marketed as a family film, parents took their kids to the theater to see it. Those same parents felt outrage that they had to comfort and talk to their kids about death. After reading that, I couldn’t help but feel the exact opposite. Having that discussion is a much needed one to have. Because it can be difficult, why not let art open the doorway to what really could be a beneficial conversation to have for young kids. I knew that I really could have benefited from one earlier in life.

Despite its tragedy, ‘My Girl’ easily became one of my favorite films that year and one that I shared with all of my friends and family. I even went to the theaters to see the aforementioned sequel, although good, it never really impacted me as much as the original. ‘My Girl’ did so much more than just entertain me, make me smile and laugh. It solidified a mantra that I tried to live by every day of my life: treat each day as if it is your last. It kind of healed my fear of death and for that I am eternally grateful.

Today’s Thoughts: “Weeping willow with your tears running down, why do you always weep and frown? Is it because he left you one day? is it because he could not stay? On your branches he would swing, do you long for the happiness that day would bring? He found shelter in your shade. You thought his laughter would never fade. Weeping willow, stop your tears. There is something to calm you fears. You think death has ripped you forever apart. But I know he’ll always be in your heart.”

Since 1992, I have witnessed a lot more death in my life. Who hasn’t, right? Death is a part of living, so they say. I have lost the remainder of my Grandparents, a friend at the age of forty-three, a friend at the age of forty-nine and most recently my mom passed away at the very young age seventy-five (at least that’s what she would have said). And since it’s 2020, unless you are living under a rock, death is a topic of conversation every single day with 215k deaths and counting from COVID-19. So what a perfect day to watch a movie about the ever taboo topic of death.

I am no longer a practicing Catholic, nor do I have any Christian beliefs as I am an atheist, but my feelings on death are much more relaxed than they were when I did believe. I can’t explain it, they just are. I guess it is the “live each day as your last” mentality and I just don’t care too much about it. That’s not saying I want to die yet, but I am not afraid of the unknown. That also doesn’t mean that I wasn’t a complete wreck while watching ‘My Girl’ today.

The movie is still as sweet and charming and emotionally draining as I remember. The entire cast is fantastic especially Anna Chlumsky, Miss “My Girl” herself. As Veda Sultenfuss (one of the best character names ever), she is funny and sweet and handles those emotional scenes like a pro, despite being only her second film and her first lead role. She is quite marvelous. As much as a downer the film can be, it really does give you a sense of hope and love while the credits roll. Of course, I was going through a box of Kleenex while thinking about all of that love and hope.

‘My Girl’ is one of my favorite comedies to make me cry as much as it makes me laugh. It is a great film and the perfect one to watch with your family. Don’t be so afraid about the topic of death. Discuss it with your young ones early. It will do them a world of good. Use a little art like this film to help ease it in. Just have some tissues handy.

Ways to Watch: YouTube, Hulu, Sling TV, Starz, Amazon Prime, Vudu, Google Play, DVD Availability.

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