Lesli Linka Glatter’s Now and Then is to ’90s girls what Stand by Me is to ’80s boys. Or, perhaps a better description is: Now and Then was a not-so-good version of Stand by Me that came out when I was coming of age, so I connected with it.
The film centers on four female childhood friends navigating the ins and outs of growing up in 1970 and is narrated by the older versions of the characters in present day. Most of the aspects of growing up and going through puberty are treated with lightness, while some are showcased with more weight.
One such lighter instance comes when tomboy Roberta (played by Christina Ricci) duct-tapes her growing boobs down. The scene starts as Roberta is getting ready for a day of summer fun, out with her friends. As we hear her brothers roughhouse in the hall, Roberta tries to suppress her growing body, clinging to any last sign of girlhood. After she buttons up her blouse and takes a dissatisfied look in the mirror, she grabs a photo of her dead mother, tucks it in her back pocket and heads out the door.
The act is treated as comical; the wacky things us ladies do. There’s even a callback at the end of the film when it’s revealed that Roberta stopped taping her boobs down after getting her first kiss. Maybe the film’s way of giving Roberta’s boob situation a perfect Hollywood ending?
With many other aspects of growing up female, as the years went on that duct tape Roberta used grew to signify something deeper: shame. Shame of our changing bodies. Shame of our periods. Shame of taking up space in a world that wasn’t designed for us.
As women, we’re often required to get the “duct tape” for our gender. You’re planning on having a baby? Better “duct tape” that down for a bit so you don’t miss out on a promotion or seem weak at work. Feel unsafe while you’re walking from your car to your apartment? Get the “duct tape” in the form of pepper spray, having 911 ready to dial on your phone, or making a mad dash and hoping for the best. You can create lots of solutions as a woman to duct-tape your reality away. And it works. Temporarily, at least.
But what happens when you’re sick of using all that duct tape? Ripping it off stings, and can leave you feeling raw. As the older versions of the younger characters in Now and Then learn, it’s community. It’s being able to lean on your female friends and say “I’m so tired of this fucking duct tape.”