New Line Cinema

Why 'Now And Then' Was The 'Pretty Little Liars' Of The '90s

Happy 20th anniversary to Marlene King's girlhood classic.

20 years ago today, the world was a much different place. Movies were painstakingly selected at Blockbuster -- and then sometimes quickly rewound, depending on the kindness of whomever rented it before you -- all girls knew their best friend's land line by heart, Jonathan Taylor Thomas was as swoon-worthy as Harry Styles, and Playboy still ran photos of nude women. Heck, I wrote notes in class by hand you guys. By hand.

But there's one thing that debuted on October 20, 1995 that was refreshingly similar to something we know and love today: Marlene King released a project about the friendship between four teen girls; girls who wore fabulous clothes and became involved in a mystery surrounding the death of a youngster. The movie was "Now and Then," and it starred Christina Ricci, Thora Birch, Gaby Hoffmann, and Ashleigh Aston Moore as Roberta, Teeny, Samantha, and Chrissy -- four young women the "Pretty Little Liars" would think were pretty groovy, if the Liars had been around in the '70s to meet them.

So without further ado, here's why "PLL" fans should totally give this '90s classic -- which turns 20 today, in case that didn't come across -- a shot:

  • It was written by Marlene King.

    Who better to trust with a coming-of-age story than "PLL" boss King?

    Despite what the (few) (written by men) reviews of the film say, "Now and Then" is a wonderful coming of age story that girls across America can easily enjoy. True, it takes place in Indiana in the days of yore instead of a bougie, modern-day Main Line suburb, but it still has all the features of a "PLL"-era King joint: four adventurous young girls, a judgment-free depiction of female friendship, great music, and scenes that take place in a graveyard.

    There's no one stalking any of the gals from Shelby, Indiana, but they're kind-of, sort of hunted by a more metaphorical type of horror: growing up in middle-class suburbia.

  • It's about the very real friendships between four teenage girls.

    Now, this is what kills me when I read the (few) (written by men) reviews of "Now and Then" -- as a former teen girl and current young woman, I will gladly testify that "Now and Then" was one of the first movies that helped me realize that there is a place for female friendship onscreen. Just like "PLL" today, which boasts healthy and nurturing companionship between its four leads (and even Alison, on a good day), "Now and Then" is great because it shows young girls that their stories matter.

    In a world where female friendships -- "PLL," "Broad City," and "Sex and the City" aside -- are still portrayed onscreen as being catty, superficial, and self-serving, films like "Now and Then" are necessary, to show us that most girls just want to ride bikes around town with their BFFs and talk about the issues that matter to them. (And if that sometimes involves boys, so what? Teen girls often like teen boys, guys.) All four of the leading ladies in "Now and Then" love each other unconditionally, and what's more, they know how to have fun. Like, stealing boys' clothes while they go swimming fun, which is a great scene that absolutely no one should try at home. (Some things are better left onscreen.)

  • It has a central mystery...

    "Now and Then" is by no means a scary movie, but it still features four heroines trying to wrap their minds around death, via a mystery about a dead boy nicknamed Dear Johnny. Spoiler alert: he doesn't come back to life like Alison DiLaurentis, but the girls do a whole lot of growing up in between their spooky graveyard seances, just like Aria, Hanna, Spencer, and Emily have exploring Rosewood's various mysteries on "PLL." Nothing says the joys of teenage girlhood quite like a spooky mystery!

  • ... But primarily deals with very real themes of love and loss.

    When it comes down to it, "Now and Then" is a movie about four girls who are coming to terms with growing up. Sam's parents are getting divorced, Roberta's mom died, Teeny's folks are never around ("PLL," much?) and Chrissy struggles with all of her friends sexually maturing before her. When I first watched "Now and Then," Ricci's scenes of mourning her mother absolutely wrecked me, and any "PLL" fan who cried over the Marin divorce or Maya's death should experience a similar result. There simply aren't enough stories about girlhood being told by actual girls out there, so all the snaps in the world to King for being ahead of her time way back when in 1995. If it wasn't for her, I never would have learned that pudding makes a better fake boob than jello.