American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
I would have liked to be a fly on the wall during the production meetings for "Now and Then." The movie tells the story of four 12-year-old girls who do a lot of growing up during the eventful summer of 1970. But it begins with a reunion 25 years later, and the screen is filled with adult stars - Demi Moore, Melanie Griffith, Rosie O'Donnell and Rita Wilson - who we will scarcely see again until the end.
What was the purpose of the wraparound bookends with the big names? Why was it necessary for us to see who the girls grew up to be? As 12-year-olds, they made a solemn pledge to "always be there" if one of them was in need. Now there is a need: Christina, the Rita Wilson character, is pregnant, and although she has a husband and a gynecologist (played by O'Donnell), she needs the others, too. So the famous actress (Griffith) and the famous writer (Moore) return to the small town of Shelby, Ind., so they can participate in the tired cliche of still another of those natural childbirth scenes ("push! push!").
The adult actresses are completely superfluous to the movie, which is a contrived "Stand by Me" kind of story. Although the screenplay isn't much help, the four young actresses (Christina Ricci, Thora Birch, Gaby Hoffmann and Ashleigh Aston Moore) are wonderfully talented and would have been completely capable of filling the screen time without the guest appearances. In theory we might be interested in seeing what kind of women the girls grew up to be - but the movie gives the adults so little screen time that it has to resort to shorthand, like using smoking as a character trait.
The story takes place in an idealized subdivision where the girls have pooled their money to buy a treehouse from Sears (the price, $129 in 1970 dollars, buys them a cottage that is still standing 25 years later). Their imaginary lives are hyperactive; led by Samantha (Hoffmann), they venture into the cemetery one night for a candlelight seance, and develop a fascination for "Dear Johnny," a boy who died young in the 1940s.