Friday October 20, 1995

     Childhood is embraced in life and fiction because it's presumed to represent our better selves--more innocent, more pure. Not, however, more intelligent. And therein lies the major rub in "Now and Then," a memory film that derails into a smoldering heap before leaving the station.
     The idea that Christina Ricci, Thora Birch, Gaby Hoffmann and Ashleigh Aston Moore--four of the better young actresses in film--could grow up to become, respectively, Rosie O'Donnell, Melanie Griffith, Demi Moore and Rita Wilson isn't just unlikely (the Ricci-O'Donnell metamorphosis is particularly jarring), it's depressing.
     Roberta (Ricci and O'Donnell), Teeny (Birch and Griffith), Samantha (Hoffmann and Demi Moore) and Chrissy (Ashleigh Aston Moore and Wilson) are best pals--their undying friendship is affirmed at regular intervals--and grew up in the sleepy town of Shelby, Ind., to be quite different people.
     Roberta has become a doctor, who also excels at sports (her dubious sexuality is delivered with something like a wink). Samantha is a best-selling novelist. Chrissy, fussy and uptight as a child, is more so as an adult; she's also pregnant and still living in her mother's house (which she's never redecorated). The sexually precocious Teeny has become a bombshell, of the cinematic variety.
     They've reunited at Chrissy's to await the birth of her child (anyone want to bet it's a girl?) and relive some memories. We're cautioned, by the dulcet tones of Demi Moore: "Thomas Wolfe once said, 'You can never go home again. . . .' " Well, after "The Scarlet Letter" I wouldn't take her word for it, but in this case both she and Tom are right. Propelled by enough '70s pop hits to stock several soundtrack albums, the girls are introduced through character-defining vignettes that never develop into anything like a real story. There's a thread of a plot about a long-ago murder and how the girls try to solve its mystery, but director Lesli Linka Glatter is more concerned with putting her foursome into situations that prompt them to realize how much they mean to each other. And we get the point a long time before they seem to.
     As the narrator, Demi Moore delivers greeting-card profundities and Griffith gets to strut her stuff; O'Donnell has a nice wry delivery when the infrequently funny line comes her way. But it's the younger women's movie, and they acquit themselves admirably, even if most of the creative energy in the film seems to have gone into the costumes and set design. It's too bad, but in a year when female bonding is all over the screen, and uniformly dreadful to watch, "Now and Then" merely continues the trend.


Now and Then, 1995. PG-13, for adolescent sex discussions. A Moving Pictures production, released by New Line. Director Lesli Linka Glatter. Producers Suzanne Todd, Demi Moore. Screenplay I. Marlene King. Cinematographer Ueli Steiger. Editor Jaqueline Cambas. Costumes Deena Appel. Music Cliff Eidelman. Production design Gershon Ginsburg, Anne Kuljian. Art director Gershon Ginsburg. Running time: 1 hour, 38 minutes. Christina Ricci as young Roberta. Thora Birch as young Teeny. Gaby Hoffmann as young Samantha. Ashleigh Aston Moore as young Chrissy. Rosie O'Donnell as Roberta. Melanie Griffith as Teeny. Demi Moore as Samantha. Rita Wilson as Chrissy.