Lesson 20: Actors playing the old and young versions of the same characters don't need to look alike
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The coming-of-age film Now and Then first hit theaters 20 years ago this week. Its parallel timelines contrast four young friends – Samantha (Gaby Hoffmann), Roberta (Christina Ricci), Chrissy (Ashleigh Ashton Moore) and Teeny (Thora Birch) – with the women they grew up to be – played by Demi Moore, Rosie O’Donnell, Rita Wilson and Melanie Griffith, respectively.

Since the focus is on the life lessons its characters must learn – in both timelines – it seemed appropriate to celebrate the film’s 20th birthday by counting off the various life lessons it can teach us.

1. Red Rover is a metaphor for life

It’s the very first scene in the movie: Samantha, Roberta, Chrissy and Teeny are the only four remaining in their side of a game of Red Rover. However, when they stand together, even if it’s only the four of them, they can’t be broken up. Symbolism much?

2. It’s good to have a crew

In the early part of the film, the four girls dress the same, act the same, know all the lyrics to at least one Tony Orlando song and essentially share everything. That doesn’t last, but it’s worth celebrating while you have it.

Demi Moore s Changing Looks!

3. Skinny-dip with caution

Never, ever swim too far from your clothes, especially if anyone in the area has motivation for revenge.

4. French kissing will not get you pregnant

Poor, sheltered Chrissy. Fortunately, she has friends to set her straight about the ins and outs of reproduction, so to speak – and hopefully any similarly sheltered viewer watching Now and Then for the first time would have learned from Chrissy’s naivety: No, pregnancy is not among the dangers of French kissing.

5. However, don’t trust your friends with all your info about sex

No, it doesn’t. Well, not typically.

6. Don’t trust everything your parents tell you, either

However, there may be a kernel of truth to this one.

7. If you’re not careful, you’ll become your mother

In the “then” timeline, Chrissy’s mom (Bonnie Hunt) is prissy, prudish and altogether picky about what’s acceptable and what’s not. Flash-forward to the “now” timeline and the adult Chrissy has basically transformed into her mom, though the influence of her more worldly friends has helped a bit.

8. Don’t tease the tomboy

If she’s tough enough to be the only girl playing softball with the boys, she’s probably also tough enough to stick it to the jerky kid who thinks girls should only play with dolls.

9. Along similar lines, don’t be too quick to judge scary vagrants

Crazy Pete (Walter Sparrow) plucks Samantha to safety when she falls into a storm drain that’s quickly filling with water, forcing the girls to realize he might not be the intimidating figure they made him out to be. However, there may be a better take-away from this one

10. Don’t climb down into storm drains

Just don’t do it. Again, it seems kind of obvious, especially when it’s raining, but this movie is about learning life lessons, after all.

11. "Things will happen in your life that you can’t stop, but that’s no reason to shut out the world"

In case you forgot, Now and Then occasionally spells out its life lessons quite literally. Thanks, grieving vagrant!

12. There’s nothing cooler than being treated like an adult for the first time

Excuse the fact that this scene is from the French dub of the film. Here’s the gist: The girls happen across a soldier (Brendan Fraser) who’s returned from Vietnam. He warns them against believing what they’ve heard about the Vietnam War from the news or their parents. The girls, enjoying their cigarettes, experience an apparent grown-up who treats them as something more than kids. That’s a major turning point. Still

13. Handsome strangers are still strangers

Remember when the girls feared Crazy Pete? Well, he has a lot in common with Fraser’s character, who admits to roaming from one place to another aimlessly. You might call him a vagrant, too, and the “then” girls are just lucky the worst part of hanging out with him was an introduction to smoking.

14. You can’t stop puberty, no matter how hard you try

The girls love to talk about how gross those Wormer boys are. However, Scott Wormer might not be so bad, Roberta eventually decides. The voiceover from adult Samantha says it all: “That was the day Roberta stopped taping her boobs.”

15. Cemeteries are not playgrounds

Seems like an obvious one, but the “then” girls had to be told that directly. Samantha conducts séances in the town graveyard. She’s into it. Her friends maybe aren’t quite as much, but they hang in anyway – at least until it gets too real in this scene, which is a great reminder that little good can come from hanging out in graveyards at night.

16. First kisses don’t have to be romantic

Take a page from Robert’s book. The kiss seems to have meant something to Scott Wormer (Devon Sawa), but Roberta just wanted it over with. It’s your first kiss. If you don’t expect it to be great, every subsequent one has the potential to be better.

17. Wanting a treehouse may be better than getting a treehouse

In the “then” timeline, the girls work hard to save up enough money to buy a treehouse, and though the finally get it, they grow up in the process and emerge with their own personalities. “We all used to try so hard to fit in,” grown-up Samantha narrates. “We wanted to look exactly alike. Do all of the same things. Practically be the same people. And when we weren’t looking, that changed. The treehouse was supposed to bring us more independence, but what the summer actually brought us was independence from each other.”

18. Enjoy friendships while they last

Most grade-schoolers would be saddened to know that they may well lose touch with the kids they’re friends with now. That’s not a negative, though: That’s motivation to make sure make the most of those friends while they’re still around.

19. You can’t go home again, but make the trip anyway

Early in the film, it’s pointed out that neither Samantha nor Teeny has returned home in ten years. When they finally do, they realize that having grown apart shouldn’t prevent them from reconnecting. That would probably be the biggest life lesson from Now and Then were it not for

20. Actors playing the old and young versions of the same characters don’t need to look alike

It’s not Zac Efron-as-young-Matthew Perry in 17 Again off, but let’s just say it’s a good thing the movie is called Now and Then, just in case anyone watching didn’t immediately conclude that Christina Ricci is supposed to be the young version of Rosie O’Donnell.