I don’t remember much from growing up with four sisters, but I do have one very clear memory: It’s 1997, I’m 9 years old, and my sisters and their friends from middle school are crowded around the dusty TV in my parents’ basement. They are shrieking, rewinding the VCR player, and shrieking again. I idle closer as they hammer the play/pause button in an attempt to manually go frame-by-frame. But for what?
I peer through the crowd to see a kid in a towel bend over to pick up his clothes. Before I can ask what the big deal was, one of my sisters screams “I SAW IT!” and the entire process starts all over again.
The big deal, it turns out, was this was the first time any of these girls had seen a penis. And they had their now favorite movie to thank: Now and Then, a coming-of-age tale wherein a group of women reflect on a particular summer they spent together as girls in the 1970s. Despite starring Christina Ricci, Rosie O’Donnell, Thora Birch and Demi Moore, the movie didn’t receive much praise from critics when it first came out in 1995. Reacting to the director Lesli Linka Glatter saying she cried while reading the script “because it captured that delicate evolution from girlhood to womanhood, and you so rarely find that,” Roger Ebert writes, “I guess she didn’t see Man in the Moon, which has so much more truth and tenderness that it exposes Now and Then for what it is, a gimmicky sitcom.”
But the movie wasn’t meant for old white dudes like Roger Ebert; It was meant for girls entering their teen years in the ’90s. And for them, it was a smash hit — and now it’s a cult classic for millennial women. Ask literally any female contemporary in your life about Now and Then and chances are she’ll light up. While I didn’t really get it at the time, the girls in my parents’ basement — and the youthful sleepovers of women across the country — were learning a lot by watching Christina Ricci and the gang tape down their growing boobs, overcome gender stereotypes and, oh yeah, see naked boys for the first time.
For the latter, we’ll return to Ebert’s scathing review of the movie:
“Needless to say they also deal with boys in the movie, especially the hated Wormers, a gang of brothers who make their lives miserable. It is more or less obligatory, I suppose, that they steal the Wormers’ clothes down at the ol’ swimmin’ hole and get a glimpse of at least one Wormer penis.”
Yes, the movie offers a sneak peak at least one Wormer penis — but it’s not just any Wormer penis. It’s ’90s teenage heartthrob Devon Sawa’s peen. In the scene described by Ebert, the girls throw up Devon’s underwear as they ride away. Sawa runs over in his towel, bends down to pick them up, and rumor has it you could see his dick.
And since this was back in the day before kids had their own tablets — and easy access to internet porn — girls had to plan sleepovers, wait for the parents to go to bed, and watch in secrecy, huddled around and whispering as if they were soliciting their very first dick pic.
I spoke to seven millennial women and discovered that, for teenage girls in the ’90s, this ritual was a coming-of-age moment. Every American girl between the ages of 25 and 40 has a story about this movie: which character they related most to, how seeing Ricci beat the shit out of a male bully made them feel, and of course, where they were when first saw (or thought they saw) Devon Sawa’s member.
But before we get into it, know that Sawa specifically laid the rumor to rest in an interview with E! News, saying, “I’ve always wanted to address that. … It’s not true, we wore these sock things, which at the age of 14 or 15 was extremely embarrassing!”
A Cult Classic
Allie, 33: I was obsessed with the movie since I first saw it, and I still am to this day, for that matter. I had the VHS when I was a kid, and then later, the DVD.
Kelly, 29: I can’t remember the very first time I watched Now and Then, mainly because I have watched it so many times since. I know the soundtrack by heart and reference “Knock Three Times” just about any time I ride a bike — which isn’t that often, I live in San Francisco, it scares me.
Allie: I am proud to say I still own the DVD, even though I only have about six DVDs and don’t even own a DVD player. My plan is when the internet ends in some apocalyptic dystopian anti-Black Mirror future, I will somehow get my hands on an old DVD player and watch it on repeat, and that comforts me.
Katie, 30: My friend’s older sister introduced us to the film. Yes, film. Don’t you dare call it a movie, it’s a cinematic masterpiece.
Emma, 35: It quickly became the anthem for being a 12- to 13-year-old girl. Everyone wanted to have the kind of summer those girls had. Minus the murder part?
Allie: My friends and I would ride our bikes around all day, to the pond by my mom’s house when we were 12 and 13 and pretend we were Teeny and Roberta (the best ones) and not go home until it was dark out. Our main purpose was to run into our own Wormy Wormers and somehow make out with them on a porch swing at night. Obvi.
Emma: Bikes and boys and freedom. And constantly singing. I also think it helped that our parents enjoyed it because it took place around the time they were growing up.
Amanda, 29: I absolutely have “Knock Three Times” memorized. I also remember really wanting an ice-cold Coke while watching that movie, because they drink them in some scenes.
Kelly: Whenever my boobs feel bigger, I compare it to when Teeny stuffs her bra with balloons filled with pudding, because “Jell-O is too jiggly.” I wanted to be Teeny, but I was very much the tomboy-with-boobs-before-I-wanted-them Roberta. Better believe I’ve tried taping my boobs down once I saw that. It didn’t work out well for me, I used Scotch tape…
Beth, 28: I was terrified my adult life meant having to wear a duct tape bra every day. Considering now we sometimes do wear duct tape bras to accommodate complicated dresses, I wasn’t too far off the mark.
Emma: It 100 percent feels like a time capsule into my childhood. Largely because we were still doing a lot of the things those girls were doing in the movie — riding our bikes to each other’s houses, pining over boys, having arguments with our parents. Maybe not solving a murder but honestly that was like, not even the point of the movie, in my opinion.
Kelly: Now and Then, to me, is one of those movies that you can’t really explain where it brings you and how it makes you feel. It reminds me of how much I loved my childhood. It makes me miss young summers spent in my grandma’s small town that was a total time warp, almost like it still was the ’70s.
Emma: I just think it really encapsulated the loveliness of a friendship at that age, when things were a little easier, to sound old. And there was a stereotype for every type of girl: tomboy, innocent and good girl, weird/moody girl and that-girl-who-makes-the-most-sex-jokes girl, so you could relate to one, or a mix of them, and then we all got to see what they grew up to be. So there was a validation in that no matter who you “were,” we’d all grow up to be normal and still friends, which I think played a big part into why girls loved the movie.
Katie: I was so happy that Roberta, the sporty tomboy, got a boy to like her. I was a sporty tomboy type and didn’t think boys would ever like me because I liked playing sports, and was better at them than most dudes. So sexual awakening? Maybe. Maybe in the way that previously I thought I’d never be kissed and it made me realize that yes, it was indeed possible.
Kelly: It definitely makes me remember how much I wanted to be a combination of Teeny and Roberta — because, duh, Roberta got the guy.
Katie: Spoiler alert: I have been kissed.
Emma: At the time I related to the tomboy, Christina Ricci’s character Roberta. I was hell-bent on being a tomboy then (or maybe I wanted to be the one kissed by Devon Sawa, who knows). As an adult…no idea. I think there are parts of all those girls in each of us — which is what makes the movie particularly great.
Emma: …Even though Christina Ricci grew up to be Rosie O’Donnell? Sorry if that’s mean but like, what?
Allie: SOOOO never understood how Roberta would grow up to be Rosie O’Donnell. That was legit the most fucked up part of the whole movie.
Devon Sawa, Teenage Heartthrob
Kelly: I cannot stress this enough: if you didn’t love Devon Sawa in Now and Then, it really may indicate you are, in the least, bi-sexual. Which, I am, and I still was madly in love with him.
Emma: I think he’s dead now, anyway. Maybe? [He’s not.] If he isn’t dead, he should slide right into my DMs.
Kelly: I am still so jealous that Christina Ricci was in Now and Then AND Casper with him. I tend to do this thing, where I actually like characters in movies and Scott Wormer was the first. The scene at the end of the movie outside of Roberta’s house, sitting on the swing/bench with a soda in her hand, awkwardly flirting, is the ultimate movie kissing scene. And how relatable when you were that age?!
Emma: I can say with 100 percent confidence that Devon Sawa is responsible for the sexual awakening, coming of age, or ushering into puberty for any heterosexual woman or homosexual man. Dare I say everyone in their 30s regardless of sexuality. It was the combination of Casper and then Now and Then. The ol’ one-two puberty punch (gross).
Katie: We’d play “Who’d you make out with?” after the movie and everyone picked Devon, obvi, but I remember not thinking he was that cute. It might’ve been because I didn’t want to be like everyone else…like I would eventually insist Lance from NSYNC was my favorite when it was really Justin, but I just had to be different. I loved Brendan Fraser way more though.
Sarah, 30: So I didn’t know about this Devon Sawa dick, growing up in the Bible Belt will do that to you…but he sure made a hot ghost in Casper. And when I saw him in that I thought it would be cool to hold his hand. NOTHING ELSE.
Emma: Devon Sawa came walking down those stairs in Casper and I think every girl in the theater collective sighed and grew size A boobs. Six months later you give us a possible glimpse at his wiener? Please. Also, I somehow feel dirtier saying wiener than penis but I’m trying to really bring forth the 13-year-old in me for the story’s sake.
Katie: Were we ready? Everyone else was I guess. I was just along for the ride, the story, the tunes. I was a good, pure, Catholic kid! We watched. We rewound. We paused. Everyone was giggling and shrieking. I didn’t really know what I was looking for, or at, for that matter. But I didn’t want to be left out so I giggled and shrieked too. It was wild.
Kelly: The dick came as a surprise to me. Actually, I wasn’t even positive if we could see it in that scene — hence the pause, rewind, pause, rewind that most girls did while watching this scene.
Emma: There were probably some sex or dick jokes made but like, it was super awkward because no one knew anything — nor did we even know what we were looking for. “I would sooooo do Devon Sawa,” I’m sure was said a lot. Because, let’s be honest, Devon Sawa can get it. Can I say that? That’s a 13-year-old Emma quote.
Beth: The best part about VHS was how easy it was to rewind and rewatch over and over. And then stop on freeze frames so we could dissect and repeat “OMG OMG OMG.” The height of maturity.
Kelly: Word traveled fast that you could see a penis in that scene, which definitely led to this becoming a staple sleepover movie. You can’t watch a movie with naked boys in it while your parents are creeping around, let alone pause it to try and see boy body parts, so this became one of the late night movies.
Emma: Entire sleepovers were planned around a Now and Then (and the dick therein). There were definitely a lot of shrill giggles and screams and probably singing “twice on the pipe” and then the mom would come down and yell at us to be quiet. We’d try to pretend like we were just fired up on sugar (instead of boys). As an adult, I’m pretty sure the moms knew what was going on. They were probably in the other room drinking wine and rolling their eyes or laughing.
Beth: Oh yeah, we would scream “KNOCK THREE TIMES” over and over again to the delight of whoever’s parents drew the short straw to host that weekend’s sleepover.
Katie: I can’t remember if we watched it because of The Dick™️ or if it was just an added bonus, but I do remember the Older Sister prepping us for the scene. We were upstairs watching it in my friend and her sister’s room they shared, cause obviously watching kiddie porn in the living room was not gonna happen. The Older Sister paused the tape a scene before and gave us a speech.
It was something along the lines of like, “Are you guys ready? There’s a PENIS. Devon Sawa’s PENIS. It’s super-short so you have to pay attention, like real close attention. I’ll pause it. Don’t scream or else mom will ask what’s up.” It was definitely a pump-up speech/warning.
Allie: Is it okay to call a 14-year-old’s penis “a dick”? Sure. So when it comes to the dick stuff my friends were into the scene of them swimming and Teeny says, “I saw his feenis” (always sounded like she said it with a weird lisp or something).
Amanda: I remember the dick scene vividly. First, when the boys are all swimming in the lake, there’s a specific part where one of them dives into the water and you get a little glimpse.
Allie: In that scene when Roberta is explaining to the other girls why it looked small and she says, “It doesn’t get big until a guy got a hard-on,” I thought that meant that like one day a guy gets a hard-on and then… it’s big from then on, forever, like when girls get boobs. They don’t then GO AWAY! So for a while there, I thought a hard-on was the same as getting boobs — forever big.
Amanda: But THEN, they steal all of the boys clothes and Devon runs after them and bends down in front of the camera while wearing a towel and you get a little glimpse of something that might be his wiener. It is a very quick scene but I definitely remember being like, “OMG DID YOU SEE THAT?! Wait, rewind it. Pause… I think you can see his dick!!”
Kelly: We all wanted to see this part, but I was still at an age where it was embarrassing, even with friends. Like, WHAT IS THIS!? So we’d rewind and inspect 10 times, laugh, and then act like we didn’t want to rewind just ONE more time.
Amanda: Rewinding and pausing, rewinding and pausing, over and over and over. And laughing a lot about it. It was something I probably would not have done if I had been watching it alone, and definitely not with my parents!
Emma: The funny thing is I just remember that everyone knew. And there was no shame. There wasn’t a girl who was like “ugh you guys this is weird, we shouldn’t do this,” aka lame Chrissy (RIP).
Allie: I always hated her. Also, now I love how when Chrissy is like, “It makes me look fat,” about the weird clear jacket and Teeny is like, “You ARE fat.” At the time, I felt Chrissy’s pain, being a little chubbier myself, but still hated her prude annoying ass. Was it her mom who said, “Canopy up? Canopy down, isn’t that the right way?” What the F ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!??!?!?! YOU ARE INSANE!!
Emma: Sometimes I think about how her mom had plastic on the couches and I didn’t get it. Isn’t it funny that she ends up having the most kids as an adult? I took it as a (’90s) hint to mean that even though she was a prude as a kid, she turns out to get the most D.
Allie: I definitely took the kids thing as meaning she was super-into sex now.
Emma: Anyway, I remember a particularly rambunctious Now and Then sleepover at a neighbor girl’s house (she’s a teacher now so I won’t say her name) but there was some new girl who didn’t know about it, so we’d be like “cool, hey new girl’s mom we’re just going to watch Now and Then, that wholesome movie about girls growing up and some dumb murder,” and then when we’d get to that part and it was rewind-city.
Amanda: We might’ve been too young for it to be a sexual awakening. For us, it was more about pointing and laughing. And the scene itself is so innocent — a bunch of boys just swimming in a lake… there was nothing sexual about it. It was just funny. We thought penises were funny.
Emma: I’m pretty sure someone got a magnifying glass once (at said rambunctious sleepover). God this feels particularly weird to admit later. Also, thirsty much, 13-year-old Emma?
Allie: I would always claim you could see it, but it was probably more of a skin colored blur. Still hot.
Emma: Yeah, you never could see it. It was, like, flesh-colored blur — just enough to tease that maybe with the right play/pause work, you could make something out. It was just the mystery of possible penis, rated-G penis. Which brings up so many questions for the director, or editor, or production company.
Emma: Like, why have a scene where a teen boy has to bend down to pick up his stolen clothes? Why have him bend down like that? If you need that shot, why not use an angle from… the back? What was that camera even doing down there? Why have that scene at all? They knew what they were doing, right?
Allie: In hindsight, it was kinda pervy for the director to make the decision to have the camera right on the ground where he was directed to duck to give us that glorious shot. Not an accident. At least the director was a woman? Anyway, thanks, Lesli Linka Glatter.
Katie: Yeah, thanks, Now and Then! I’m still really good at sports and it’s still intimidating to men, so I guess I’ll just forever be a Roberta looking for her Devon and his kid penis.
Emma: Twice on the pipe forever.