Rosie O’Donnell. Melanie Griffith. Demi Moore. Rita Wilson. These four huge stars (put on your 1995 goggles) play best friends in the Now & Then, a very 1990s movie about the 1970s that’s 80% soundtrack and obsessively pro-denim. The adult stars bookend the story, beginning with Griffith and Moore’s return to their hometown of Shelby, Indiana for the birth of Wilson’s baby, who O’Donnell will deliver. Griffith, now a movie star, and Moore, a science-fiction writer (sure), immediately feel distant from their old friends O’Donnell, now an OB/GYN, and Wilson, now a professional Annie-wig wearer. Griffith and Moore aren’t comfortable in their small town anymore, as indicated when they ask Wilson for a Jim Beam and she doesn’t have it in her home. Because Jim Beam is something city people drink that country people would never have in their homes. No, that adds up.
Stay with me. The meat of the story takes place in the summer of 1970 when the girls are 13 and in pursuit of money to build a tree house. The middle school version of the characters are played by the who’s who of ’90s middle school actresses: Thora Birch, Christina Ricci, Gaby Hoffman and Ashleigh Ashton Moore. OK, the last one isn’t famous and she died in 2007. She’s sad. The Hoffman/Moore character is dealing with her parents’ divorce, while Ricci/O’Donnell’s character is still coping with her mother’s death, Birch/Griffith is… adjusting to… wanting to be an actress and Moore/Wilson… doesn’t really understand sex. So that’s her thing.
The girls raise money for the tree house mainly through performing séances, faking their own deaths, accusing Janeane Garofalo of being a witch, foiling Devon Sawa, and bugging the shit out of Cloris Leachman. Kids stuff. They become obsessed with a cracked tombstone that reads “Dear Johnny,” who they believe they’ve resurrected. Also, there’s an old man they call Crazy Pete who roams the city as if something really tragic has happened to him. Alright: I’ll just let you in on something the girls didn’t figure out for 25 years: Crazy Pete is Dear Johnny’s Dad. HIS DAD! So that’s why he’s crazy. See? Have some compassion.
The movie ends with the four adults in the tree house with Wilson’s baby. I watched this movie last week and I can’t tell you how they paid for that tree house. In his review of the movie, Roger Ebert asked “What was the purpose of the wraparound bookends with the big names?” Well, Ebz, because this is a fantasy friendship movie and that’s what we want to see happen. Women love double-endings to movies (see: Titanic, A League Of Their Own). We want the four girls (who basically NEVER fought as middle schoolers– impossible) grow up to be four friends who deliver each others’ babies and sit in a tree house, whose only disagreement is over liquor. This is basically an aspirational movie for female friendship, and even though most of the movie makes little to no sense, that continues to be the allure and why it has the power to steal two hours of my time at any time.