But the adults do little more than provide marquee allure in brief bookending scenes that add little to rest of the pic. For the most part, “Now and Then” is a showcase for four fine actresses in their early teens: Christina Ricci (“Casper”), Thora Birch (“Patriot Games”), Gaby Hoffmann (“Sleepless in Seattle”) and newcomer Ashleigh Aston Moore (no relation to Demi).
They winningly play 12-year-old best friends who share confidences and misadventures during the summer of 1970 in the extended flashback that’s the heart of this exercise in rose-tinted nostalgia.
Ricci is first among equals as Roberta, a sharp-witted tomboy who’s amusingly unsettled by her budding attraction to a cute neighbor boy. (None too plausibly, she grows up to be the smart-mouthed doctor played by Rosie O’Donnell.) Birch is Tina, a flashy little dynamo who’s already rehearsing her Oscar acceptance speech. She grows up to be the much-married actress played by Melanie Griffith, which seems about right.
Ashleigh Aston Moore is Chrissy, an easily flustered prude who grows up to be the equally flustery and prudish Rita Wilson. And Hoffmann is Samantha, a wise-beyond-her-years philosopher who provides the episodic story with a unifying point of view. As grownup Samantha, a blocked writer, Demi Moore provides pic’s melancholy narration.
“Now and Then” strongly recalls “Stand by Me,” not merely in the way the young protagonists become fascinated with an unsolved murder, but in how it turns on a key transitional period in the lives of characters.
In this case, the girls discover that the world beyond their small town may offer all sorts of rude surprises. Worse, even in their own hometown, death, divorce and other upheavals undermine their heretofore unshakable sense of security.
Which isn’t to say, of course, that they can’t have a good time with such harmless pursuits as se-ances, sports and tentative boy-gazing. But by summer’s end, the sage Samantha has good reason to wonder if she and her friends will ever again be so happy.
“Now” is much more adept at depicting childhood’s end than at presenting adult relationships.
The modern-day prologue and epilogue wind up seeming more like gimmicks (or desperate infusions of star power) than integral parts of the narrative. The grownups try hard, but they have only cartoons, not flesh-and-blood characters, to play.
In the 1970s scenes, standout supporting players include Brendan Fraser as a spooked Vietnam vet, Janeane Garofalo as a waitress, and Lolita Davidovich as Samantha’s newly divorced mother.
I. Marlene King’s semi-autobiographical screenplay is so predictable, audiences may grow impatient while waiting for the inevitable to occur.
And while first-time feature filmmaker Lesli Linka Glatter is very good at bringing out the best in her young actresses, she is notably careless about anachronisms. At one point, a character watches “Love Story” on a drive-in screen several months before the movie was released.
At another point, another character optimistically claims U.S. troops are “really starting to gain ground” in Vietnam. By the summer of 1970, even small-town Silent Majority members rarely were quite so upbeat. And what’s with all the Monkees music? Wouldn’t they already be considered passe in 1970?
Otherwise, music supervisor Dawn Soler has assembled a strong lineup of ’70s pop tunes for the soundtrack. And Deena Appel’s costumes are strongly evocative of the period. Other tech credits are unremarkable.