Follow TV Tropes


Film / My Girl

Go To

My Girl is a 1991 coming-of-age comedy-drama film directed by Howard Zieff and starring Anna Chlumsky, Macaulay Culkin, Dan Aykroyd and Jamie Lee Curtis. Set in the summer of 1972, the film revolves around Vada Sultenfuss (Chlumsky), an 11-year-old girl living with her father (Aykroyd). Vada is obsessed with death. Her mother is dead, and her dad owns a funeral parlor. Her best friend, Thomas J. Sennett (Culkin) has various allergies and her father falls in love with makeup expert Shelly DeVoto (Curtis) whom he hires for the parlor. Vada tries everything she can to split them up while sticking around with Thomas J. for some various adventures...

The film's success spawned a sequel in 1994.

Tropes associated with this movie:

  • The '70s: The movie takes place in 1972 and features some era staples such as holdover hippies like Shelly's ex and Vada's plot-relevant mood ring (though mood rings technically didn't exist yet).
  • Actor Allusion:
  • Almost Kiss: Between Harry and Shelly, before Vada intervenes.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • Pretty impressive that Vada lost a mood ring in 1972 considering they weren't invented until 1975.
    • Harry claims that he danced the frug in high school. That's a dance from 1964, and he's old enough to have an eleven-year-old daughter in 1972. There is no way he could have been in high school in '64. Indeed, he mentions in another scene that he hasn't dated in twenty years, which would place his high school years in 1952 at the latest. If anything, he would have been dancing the jitterbug back then.
  • Aw, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: Thomas J and Vada snipe at each other plenty of times, but do ultimately share a kiss.
  • Back-to-Back Poster: The poster has main character Vada and Thomas J., who serves as her best friend and possible Love Interest, back to back.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Thomas J. unexpectedly dies and Vada’s outlook on life is forever changed with that loss of innocence, but she learns to cherish the good memories she had with him as a friend, patch things up with Harry, become more accepting of Shelley in Harry’s life and gets a new friend in Judy while moving forward with her emotional growth.
  • Blind Without 'Em: Thomas J. needs his large glasses to see much of anything, and this is repeatedly mentioned. The sentiment makes a heartbreaking comeback when Vada walks into Thomas's funeral and breaks down upon seeing him in his casket minus glasses, crying and begging someone to give them back to him because he can't see without them.
  • Break the Cutie: Vada. Especially after her best friend dies and her crush marries someone else the same day of the funeral.
  • Captain Obvious: While watching Shelly and her ex-husband arguing, Vada's uncle remarks, "These two people do not have a good relationship."
  • Chekhov's Gun: Thomas J.'s allergy to everything and the beehive.
  • Comically Missing the Point: Thomas J. reminds Vada that she can't marry her teacher because it's against the law: "he'll give you all A's!"
  • Coming of Age Story: During the film Vada learns about the nature of love, copes with her father remarrying and the concept of death.
  • Cool Uncle: Vada's uncle Phil, a Vietnam vet who had a metal plate put in his head, is like another father to Vada.
  • Creepy Basement: Considering the house is a funeral parlor and the basement is used to embalm the corpses, Vada gets suitably scared when she's accidentally locked down there.
  • Death by Childbirth: Vada's mother passed away from complications a few days after Vada's birth, which Vada blames herself for.
  • Death of a Child: Poor Thomas J. He's allergic to bees and succumbs to being stung by them.
  • Dropped Glasses: When Thomas J. is fatally attacked by a bee swarm, the camera focuses on his fallen glasses and bees crawling over them as a Discretion Shot to his actual death.
  • First Kiss: Vada and Thomas J. share a brief kiss as well as making a Childhood Marriage Promise. Notable for winning the first ever "Best Kiss" award at the 1992 MTV Movie Awards. Heck, in Latin American countries the movie is known as "Mi Primer Beso" ("My First Kiss"). It was also the first onscreen kiss for Macaulay Culkin.
  • First Period Panic: Vada apparently has never heard of menstruation. She visits the bathroom, then calls for her father in a panic. Her father is not available, so she tells the only other adult present that she is hemorrhaging. She's also one of the girls who have no mother or female figure to consult.
  • Fourth-Date Marriage:
    • Downplayed, but the whole film—including Harry and Shelly's first meeting, first going on a date, and eventually getting engaged—takes place over the course of one summer.
    • Harry tells Vada that he doesn't know much about her mother because they didn't have much time together. He proposed on the second date and they got married two weeks later.
  • Freak Out: Vada goes through a couple of these; when she's accidentally locked in the basement, when she gets her first period, and at Thomas J.'s funeral.
  • Freudian Excuse: Missing Mom + guilt for the Death by Childbirth + growing up in a funeral home and being around dead people all the time = the eccentric Vada Sultenfuss.
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral": Accidental example. Vada is supposed to be watching her senile grandmother while a funeral is going on in the house, but she isn't. So the grandmother walks into the funeral and starts singing loudly.
  • Girliness Upgrade: At the end of the movie, Vada lets her hair down and wears a nice dress.
  • Good Parents: Harry and Shelly, who both love Vada deeply with the latter wanting to make sure Vada's mother is still part of her life despite her death.
  • Granola Girl: The creative writing class has granola girls AND guys. Then again, it is set in 1972.
  • Green-Eyed Monster: Vada feels this way in regard to her father developing a relationship with Shelly. She gets over it with time.
  • Heroic BSoD: Poor Vada takes Thomas J's death very badly.
  • Hot for Teacher: Vada has a huge crush on her schoolteacher - to the point where, in order to pay to enroll in a summer writing course that he teaches, she steals the money from Shelly.
  • Hypochondria: Vada. The junior novel adaptation opens with her listing off all the things she thinks are wrong with her - namely, that she was born jaundiced, caught hemorrhoids in a public restroom, and has a small chicken bone stuck in her throat from a Fourth of July barbecue years before.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Vada has many of these which is rather fitting for an eccentric and possibly gifted child like her having a hard time finding friends within her peer group. She gets along well with her father's coworker Arthur, Shelly (before finding out about Harry being attracted to her), her teacher (who she has a crush on), everyone in the writing class, and even Dr. Welty and his secretary.
  • Kill the Cutie: Thomas J. dies after being attacked by bees, and the rest of the movie deals with the fallout of his death and Vada learning to cope with her grief over both him and her late mother.
  • Kissing In A Tree: A group of passing girls makes fun of Vada and Thomas J using this song, while the two of them are hanging out at Shelley's.
  • Letting Her Hair Down: Vada is mostly seen with a ponytail for the first half of the film. She lets it down after some drama has passed.
  • Lovable Alpha Bitch: Judy, who doesn't seem to tease Vada along with the rest of the Girl Posse. She pays her respects after Thomas J's death and she and Vada appear to be friends by the end of the movie and the sequel shows that they are still friends.
  • Madness Mantra: Vada puts her hands over her ears and sings "Do Wah Diddy Diddy" when she's emotionally breaking.
  • Maternal Death? Blame the Child!: Vada does this to herself. When she finally voices these feelings, her father assures her that it wasn't her fault.
  • Missing Mom: Vada's mother died a few days after Vada was born.
  • Mysterious Parent: Vada knows virtually nothing about her mother except small anecdotes from her father.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer is narrated by Macaulay Culkin, making it seem like Thomas J. is the protagonist, and the film is primarily about his burgeoning preteen romance with Vada. In reality, Vada herself is decidedly the main character, and Thomas J. is in a supporting role. Trailers also portrayed the film as a lighthearted comedy, when in reality it is a more dramatic film that deals with Vada's father entering a new relationship and Thomas J.'s accidental death.
  • No Periods, Period: Averted. Vada experiences her first period, and panics when it happens.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: Mr. and Mrs. Sennett lose their only child in a very unexpected and tragic accident.
  • Parental Obliviousness: Harry doesn't take Vada's eccentric behavior or apparent hypochondria seriously, even initially brushing off Shelly when she points out how Vada is scared and confused by the concept of death due to her unusual exposure to it.
  • Parents as People: The movie occasionally shifts its focus from Vada to Harry, following his developing romance with Shelly and his struggles in being a good father to Vada.
  • Parent with New Paramour: Vada is not happy about her father dating Shelly. She gets over it by the end and develops a good relationship with Shelly as a new mother figure.
  • Precocious Crush: Vada has a crush on her teacher, Mr. Bixler. She confesses to him while breaking down after Thomas J.'s funeral, and he tries to gently let her down and informs her he is getting married. It doesn't make her feel better.
  • The Runaway: Vada runs away after she finds out Harry and Shelly are getting married, but it lasts less than a day and no one notices. She does it again when she can't cope with Thomas J.'s death and her guardians definitely notice.
  • Scary Stinging Swarm: Vada and Thomas J run from a swarm of bees and manage to escape unscathed, save for Vada losing her mood ring. When Thomas J goes back alone to retrieve the ring, he isn't quite so lucky...
  • Self-Soothing Song: Whenever Vada is stressed or dealing with trauma (like when she's locked in the basement and when Thomas J has been killed), she covers her ears and quickly sings "Doo Wah Diddy Diddy" to herself.
  • She Is Not My Girlfriend: Inverted; Vada is annoyed when kids tease her about Thomas J. being her boyfriend.
  • Stock Beehive: The bees that come after the kids live in a paper wasp nest.
  • Sublime Rhyme: Defied by Vada's teacher. He tells her that a poem is more than words rhyming; it's about expressing one's self.
  • The Talk: Vada gets one from Shelly after her period. Her reaction: "My mom and dad did THAT?...I think it should be outlawed!"
  • That Nostalgia Show: It's set in the 1970s and has a very nostalgic feel to it - Shelly drives a Volkswagen van, Vada owns a mood ring, there are 70s pop songs on the get the picture. The 1990s were a time when 70s nostalgia was quite prevalent.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Oh God, where to start?! Vada's life is already a little rough, but it got worse when her best friend, Thomas J, dies in a bee attack. He only went back to try and find her mood ring that she lost, her father is the mortician, the funeral is held at her house, and to top it all off, on the day of said funeral, she discovers the teacher that she had a crush on is getting married. However, she gets better in the end.
  • Tsundere: Vada is hot and aggressive toward Thomas a lot of the time, but she does care for him a lot.