Disappointing 'My Girl'doesn't give Macaulay Culkin a big enough role

MOVIE REVIEW

November 27, 1991|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

"My Girl's" got Macaulay Culkin and who could ask for anything more? Well, what about some believable characters? What about a sense of spontaneity instead of manipulation? What about a performance instead of a posture from Dan Aykroyd? What about less wacky zaniness from zany wacko Jamie Lee Curtis? And what about more Macaulay Culkin?

In fact the deepest disappointment in this deeply disappointing film is that Culkin, whose vivid presence elevated "Home Alone" into the most successful comedy every made, is essentially a minor character. Of course his participation in the project, a fortuitous gift to filmmakers who hired him before "Home Alone" went through the roof, has inflated the movie's profile until it seems like a legitimate holiday movie (it has clearly been held back till the holiday season in hopes of cashing in on the bigger audiences); but it's half a piffle.

Thematically, "My Girl" is familiar territory: a precious pre-pubescent young woman just edging into queasy adolescence has unresolved feelings toward her parents, seemingly sourceless sexual jealousy, and general resentment of society, all of which she sublimates in an idealized relationship with the boy next door.

"My Girl" has an added subtext of what is probably the cheapest of all movie values, family eccentricity. The true star of the movie, a young actress named Anna Chlumsky, plays Vada Sultenfuss, daughter of the town mortician in a small Michigan town in 1972. Her father, played by a Dan Aykroyd as fat as a Macy's parade float, is as distant as some of his clients; a sponging brother (Richard Masur) lives in the house to offer cheap wisdom; and grandma, seemingly imbecilic, is wont to deliver show-tunes as if she's been possessed by the Ninth Demon from beyond Valhalla, Ethel Merman.

Vada's response to this is cloying preciousness, which takes the form of hypochondria and general snippiness. However, even as dreary as this apple cart is, it's upset with the arrival of a zany, kooky, wacky, quirky, jerky, flaky cosmetician named Shelly (Jamie Lee Curtis), whose job is to paint smiley faces on the clientele.

Curtis throws herself into the role with such abandon that it gives the movie a vaguely indecent feel: She's so archly phony she deserves some kind of award for brazenness. Aykroyd settles for old-fashioned bad: He's never the character but only pretending to be him.

That's the crisis: the arrival of the cosmetician who represents -- in the great scheme of things as laid bare by whatever Screenwriting-Is-EZ seminar Laurice Elehwany took -- Life Force. But of course Life Force must be opposed by Death Force. Director: "Somebody go get Mac. It's time to die."

I give nothing away to inform you that Culkin doesn't survive the film, and with his passing, all sense of life departs "My Girl."

'My Girl'

;-

Starring Dan Akroyd and Macauley Culkin.

Directed by Howard Zieff.

Released by Columbia.

PG-rated.

**

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