Laura is frustrated with the antics and carrying on of her extended family.
Big Girls Don’t Cry... They Get Even opens with clips of home videos shown by 13-year-old Laura Chartoff (Hillary Wolf), the film’s narrator and main character, which she uses to describe her family and their complicated relationships. This is because Laura’s mother and father have both gone through multiple divorces and remarriages since she was eight. Now she lives in Los Angeles with her mother Melinda (Margaret Whitton), her third step-father Keith Powers (David Strathairn), a step sister, Corinne (Jenny Lewis) and step brother Kurt (Trenton Teigen) from widower Keith’s previous marriage, and Melinda and Keith’s young son Sam (Ben Savage), her half brother. A second step brother Josh (Dan Futterman) is estranged from Keith and the family and lives in a lakeside cabin in the foothills. Laura’s artist father David (Griffin Dunne) has had a number of relationships since his divorce from Melinda, including a marriage to Barbara (Patricia Kalember) which produced another step sister named Jessie (Jessica Seely), and currently is living in San Francisco with 19-year-old Stephanie (Adrienne Shelly) who is pregnant with twins.
Laura’s half brother, Josh, checks out the L. A. view from his father’s office.
Laura’s main complaint in life is that she is continually overlooked by the rest of the family, and she resents the fact everyone else’s needs seem to take precedence at her house. Her wealthy step father Keith is totally involved in his business, and has little time for his children, much less his step daughter. Her mother Laura spends most of her time indulging Corinne who shares a similar interest in shopping, makeup, and clothes. Corinne treats Laura with contempt, calling her the ugly stepsister. Kurt is obsessed with acting like an army sergeant, and runs around the house playing soldier. Young Sam is a genius who talks like an adult scientist most of the time when he is not working on experiments or his computer. The only relatives in her complicated family life who she likes are Josh, who is estranged from the family because he dropped out of college just before graduation and resents the fact that his father Keith has seemingly abandoned the memory of his deceased former wife and Josh’s mother, and Barbara, her step-mother who has separated from David because of his affair with Stephanie. When Josh appears at the Powers family home and describes his new life up at the lake, Laura wants to leave and go with him. He refuses, but after Laura is blamed later that evening for broken china, caused by Kurt accidentally shooting his rifle in the house, she decides to run away from home and stay with Josh. In the middle of the night, she sneaks out of the house and hides in the back of Josh’s pickup truck, which is parked at a nearby motel.
Josh and Laura discuss Laura’s future.
By the time Josh discovers Laura, they are nearly at his cabin, so he relents and lets her stay for a while, and since they have a good rapport, are able to begin discussing Laura’s problems and insecurities about life and her family. Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, the rest of the family is both furious and concerned about Laura’s disappearance, but they soon figure out that she must be with Josh. Keith hires a stretch limo, and the Los Angles branch of the family takes off to the lake to bring Laura back. A concerned Sam has also notified David and Barbara in San Francisco, and they both come to the lake also, David with the very pregnant Stephanie, and Barbara with little Jessie. When Laura sees everyone arriving, she thinks that Josh has turned on her, and she runs away again into the woods, eluding her family’s attempts to chase her down. This time, she is truly on her own, and the adventures she has on the way, and how she resolves her feelings about her extended family make up the balance of the plot. At the same time, this crisis also has an impact on the rest of Laura’s family, forcing them to deal with each other, examine their personal feelings, and confront the problems in their relationships.
After running away from her family, Laura contemplates the consequences of her actions.
The script to Big Girls Don’t Cry... They Get Even examines modern family life in a humorous and sometimes touching manner. As a viewer, you quickly get to know Laura’s feelings and insights into her family through her narration and witty descriptions of the rest of her family. It takes some time to begin to understand the feelings and motivations of the others, partly because there are so many of them, and the film’s focus on Laura’s point of view. When Laura is finally on her own for a while, you begin to see her vulnerable side, and also a coming of age process that occurs from her encounters with another large family, and some young delinquents on the run. Because of Laura’s affluent circumstances, many things happen in the film that most likely wouldn’t occur if she came from a poor or working class background. While the film doesn’t offer a depth of experiences and feelings that would happen to a truly abandoned and neglected kid who runs away from home, it nevertheless delivers a positive message that points out some universal truths about life and family values. By stressing the humorous side of things, director Joan Micklin Silver keeps you engaged in the film without getting too pedantic. One of the great lines in the film comes from the county sheriff brought in to help find Laura. After actually figuring out the relationships between the different sets of parents and step-parents that Laura has, he says with a straight face, “Say, you folks wouldn’t happen to be from Los Angeles would you?” And Melinda actually responds, “Why yes, how did you know?” The film features a well cast ensemble of mostly unknown actors, led by young Hillary Wolf and Dan Futterman. There is well placed music in many of the scenes including “I’m Free” (Rolling Stones), “So Fashionable” (The Escape Club), “Danger Road” (Todd Smallwood), “Give the Kid a Break” (1927), “Everybody Gets a Second Chance” (Mike and the Mechanics), “The Brady Bunch” (Frank DeVol), and “Stand By Me” (King, Stoller, and Leiber) which helps complement the action and sentiments of the storyline.
Laura and her siblings take the plunge into the lake together.
Laura talks on the telephone to her real father.
Throughout the film, Hillary Wolf, in her lead role as Laura, wears black high top chucks and Dan Futterman, in his role as Josh, wears natural white high tops. After 90 minutes of dysfunctional family, it’s fitting that the coolest characters in the film wear chucks. There are many good shots of Laura in different sections of the film, and several with Josh. but the best sequence of shots is right at the beginning when we see Laura hanging around her Los Angeles house talking on the telephone or writing in her diary.
Laura writes her thoughts in her diary.
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