A thousand curses on The Wonder Years! This TV series had many fine moments, and a nice mix of drama and whimsy, but its winning formula has had a seemingly irrevocable effect on contemporary American cinema.
Now each year brings a load of films mining a sickly nostalgia for the recent past, particularly the '60s and '70s. Invariably, they have a young protagonist who not only undergoes an unctuous rite of passage, but also has the temerity to spell it out for us in a ponderous voice-over narration ("1969 was to be the year that changed my life forever.").
The worst habit that these movies have picked up from The Wonder Years is a sinister sleight-of-hand whereby momentous social revolutions are revisited, but completely neutralised.
Take My Girl 2, director Howard Zieff's bland sequel to his rather charming My Girl (1991). The plot traces the journey of young Veda (Anna Chlumsky) who travels to California to uncover the hidden biography of her late mother, supposedly a true free spirit of the '60s.
No movie could be less interested in sexual liberation, unconventional morality or transgressive politics than this one. Hippies who have shacked up are presented as poor souls who pine for old-fashioned marital commitment; tough career women are shown to be whole only when they give in to their biological urge to procreate.
In order to appear even-handed, Zieff navigates this shift to middle-of-the-road ethics from the opposite side as well: Veda persuades an "anti-hippie" cop to break establishment rules for the sake of human compassion.
My Girl 2 is a gooey, cowardly exercise in historical revisionism.
© Adrian Martin November 1994