My Girl

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The 1991 movie My Girl tells the story of 11-year-old Vada Sultenfuss who, having lost her mother at birth , lives with her dementia-ridden grandmother and her job-oriented father in the funeral parlour that he owns and operates. The story follows Vada, an extreme hypochondriac who has many strange misconceptions about death, through a variety of life-changing experiences, including the engagement of her father and the devastating loss of her best friend, Thomas Jay. Through these experiences, the audience witnesses Vada’s social, emotional, and intellectual growth, as well as her changing views of death.

One of the most compelling elements of this film is Vada’s obsession with death and disease, and her apparent misunderstanding of both. Living in a funeral parlour, death has been a large part of Vada’s life; this, perhaps combined with the death of her mother as a newborn, has contributed to Vada’s rather morbid view of life. Vada is an obvious hypochondriac, adopting the affliction that caused the death of the person most recently brought into the parlour. Her apparent view that the state of dying is in some way contagious or transient illustrates her misunderstanding of the concept.

Another important element in My Girl is the absence of parental attention or support in Vada’s life. Her father, preoccupied with his business and likely still grieving over his late wife’s death, is frequently unavailable to his daughter, both emotionally and otherwise. For instance, when Vada asks her father if she can have money to take a writing class, he is preoccupied with the television and barely looks at her, brushing off her request. Her father’s lack of attention has also likely influences Vada’s misconceptions about death; his response to Vada’s question about whether a particularly small casket is for a child is “no”, that it is simply for short people. Furthermore, when Vada feigns dying one night at dinner, her father’s reaction is to ignore her rather than talk to her about what the real issue is. Behavior such as this might be viewed as both a lack of understanding about death as well as an attempt to get attention that is so obviously absent. Vada’s father’s lack of attention to his daughter’s needs is similarly illustrated in the fact that when Vada starts her period, she believes she is haemorrhaging; he has not adequately educated her on the normal bodily changes that are unrelated to death, nor on the subject of death itself.

A related important event in this movie is the quick engagement of Vada’s father. Vada reacts to this news negatively, recruiting Thomas Jay to run away with her, and eventually returning to find that no one has even noticed her absence which only frustrates her further. Vada, who has never seen her father as a particularly happy person, suddenly sees a change in his demeanor when he meets and starts dating Shelly; for Vada, this translates to her inability to make her father happy, that she is unneeded, and that she was not good enough on her own. Her feeling of being replaced is illustrated when, upon the news of the engagement, Vada drops the goldfish she has just won, but refuses to get a new one: “Don’t worry, I won’t get another fish”. Although Vada’s attitude toward Shelly becomes hostile, Shelly ultimately serves a major role in Vada’s emotional and intellectual development, recognizing Vada’s misconceptions about death and her need for parental warmth and attention.

Finally, the most integral element of this film is Vada’s relationship with her best friend, Thomas Jay, which ends with his surprising and untimely death. Thomas, who dies from a massive amount of bee stings while trying to find Vada’s lost mood ring, understands and accepts Vada while others do not and they are extremely close because of this, making his death very hard on Vada. Once again, Vada visit’s the doctor’s office, this time panicked and complaining that she cannot breath, the pain from...
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