Now and Then has been referred to as a female version of the 1986 film, Stand by Me (starring the late River Phoenix), but whilst Stand by Me received universal acclaim (it still has a 91% positivity rating on Rotten Tomatoes), Now and Then was critically panned (it has a 19% positivity rating on Rotten Tomatoes). Film critic Roger Ebert said that although the movie was modelled after Stand by Me, Now and Then is artificial and unbelievable in comparison.
Samantha, the narrator of the story, finds herself reluctantly driving back to her hometown of Shelby, Indiana, due to the invocation of a pact made by her 12-year-old self, to always be there for her childhood friends, Roberta, 'Teeny' and Chrissy.
Chrissy is living in her childhood home (with the décor still the way her mother left it) with her husband, pregnant with their first child and due to give birth any day. Roberta is now a doctor and is unmarried but living with her boyfriend. Teeny is a Hollywood actress who has been married three times and Samantha is a single science-fiction writer.
After the many greetings (Teeny and Samantha haven't been back to their hometown in over ten years) and exclamations (Teeny arrived in a limousine) Chrissy and Roberta show Teeny and Samantha into Chrissy's backyard where the tree house they bought in the summer of 1970 still resides.
Chrissy (Aston Moore), Samantha (Hoffmann), Roberta (Ricci) and Teeny (Birch).
It is 1970 and all they want is a tree house. Samantha, Roberta, Teeny and Chrissy are saving up all of their pocket money, and money from doing odd jobs to get one. It's the summer break and in between cycling, swimming, red rover, séances, and run-ins with the pesky Wormer brothers, the girls are growing up.
Samantha Albertson: Samantha is the serious girl that likes mystery and intrigue. She leads the girls in séances in the cemetery, believes in the paranormal, and enjoys science. During the summer of 1970 her parents get divorced, something that was quite shocking at the time and that affected Samantha deeply.
Roberta Martin: Roberta is a tomboy and the only girl in her house after her mother died when she was four. She tapes down her breasts, fights, and plays sports. Roberta struggles to come to terms with death and the circumstances of her mother's death in particular, when it is learned during that summer that she died in a car accident.
Chrissy DeWitt: Chrissy is the 'good girl'. She lives with her overbearing fastidious mother who, in her efforts to shelter her, likens sexual interaction to gardening. Chrissy is naïve (because of her mother) but also responsible (she's the holder of the 'tree house money') and loyal. Her adult life sees an amusing obsession with gardening.
Tina 'Teeny' Tercell:
Teeny is the show-off. She wants to be famous and wear fancy clothes, make-up, and have big breasts (as an adult she gets implants). She never sees her rich parents so she tends to do exactly as she likes. Teeny is the most interested of the girls in sexuality and boys.
Now and Then is set mainly in the summer of 1970 and communicates the level of friendship the girls had with each other. When Samantha lets out that her parents are getting divorced, the others are there for her and when Roberta breaks down over finding her mother's cause of death, the girls help her through it. Even though Now and Then was critically panned, every time I watch it's hard not to liken their childhood friendship with the friendships that I had as a child. It gives you a warm feeling to reminisce on the innocence of that time when you look back on it, and Now and Then shows that too.
After watching the foursome as girls, the movie brings viewers back into the 'present' moment. The group reminiscence has acted as a group therapy session and everyone seems to feel better about themselves. Roberta delivers Chrissy's baby while Samantha and Teeny get teary and they all seem to be closer than they've been in the last ten years. Yes, the ending is a bit of a cliché, I admit, but I assure you that the key thing going for this movie is its representation of childhood friendship. For me, no time is better than the time spent as a child.