#141 The Big Chill

(1983, Lawrence Kasdan)

“It’s a cold world out there. You know sometimes I think I’m getting a little frosty myself”

Putting a movie together with an ensemble cast, sticking them in a room together and making them talk for an hour and a half is a tricky business. If you’re John Hughes, you can make The Breakfast Club out of that, and that’s definitely a good thing. But if you’re Lawrence Kasdan, screenwriter for George Lucas’ biggest productions, you end up with The Big Chill. Which, as you may be able to tell from my description, isn’t all that great.

The Big Chill is basically The Breakfast Club but with adults instead of teenagers. Following the death of their friend Alex, a group of people who were close-knit friends back at university meet up again for his funeral and spend a weekend together as an impromptu reunion. Sam (Tom Berenger) is a recently divorced actor now living in Los Angeles, Meg (Mary Kay Place) is an unhappy real estate lawyer who wants a child, Michael (Jeff Goldblum) is a slightly creepy People journalist, Nick (William Hurt) is a Vietnam veteran suffering from impotence, and Karen (JoBeth Williams) is a depressed housewife stuck in a loveless marriage. The house they’re staying at belongs to the remaining friends, Harold (Kevin Kline) and Sarah (Glenn Close), who are happily married.

Now, I praised The Breakfast Club for its ability to make “people sitting in a room” interesting, but sadly I can’t say the same about The Big Chill. Where John Hughes had created a cast of fairly believable teenagers with three dimensional personalities, Kasdan seemed to struggle to do the same with adults. Far too much of the dialogue and scenarios felt clichéd and unrealistic, and that’s what drags the whole movie down.

The problem is, because there’s no need for the characters to be introduced to each other, the audience doesn’t really get introduced to them either, so much of the movie just feels like we’ve been invited to a party and then not really been included in any of the conversations. Much of the dialogue discusses events that we know nothing about, and we as the audience need to spend a vast amount of time trying to desperately piece it all together into something that makes sense.

Speaking of which, the movie has a terrible tendency to leap around various events and conversations without any real connection beyond the characters involved. Some even feel contradictory, almost taking place while characters should logically be elsewhere.

It didn’t help that some plot points really bugged me. Meg’s plotline about her desperately wanting a child felt really awkward. Her determination extending to sleeping with random men just to get pregnant made her feel entirely fictional, since I honestly couldn’t imagine someone going to these lengths, not least someone who seemed as intelligent as she supposedly was. The resolution bugged me even more, and I wanted to throw something at the screen for it.

Too much of the dialogue felt like an eighties movie script than something actual people would say. Everyone was trying to get out one-liners or sound deliberately pseudo-philosophical all the time, and as a result I simply couldn’t identify with anyone. The fact that the movie had a tendency to slip into musical montages every five minutes didn’t help either (I seriously counted three before the half hour mark).

I did enjoy the scenes where they discussed Alex’s suicide, though. These, ironically, had actual warmth and were genuinely interesting to watch. It’s such a shame they were so often surrounded by scenes of the characters acting completely over the top for no good reason.

I have little to recommend about The Big Chill. Overall, it feels like Lawrence Kasdan had recently attended a high school reunion and enjoyed it so much he decided to write a movie about it, the cinematic equivalent of showing everyone his holiday snaps for two hours. And much like there are only so many pictures of the Eiffel Tower that people can take, there are only so many scenes of The Big Chill that can be endured before you decide you’d rather be watching The Breakfast Club.

Starring Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, JoBeth Williams & Don Galloway
Written by Lawrence Kasdan & Barbara Benedek
Produced by Michael Shamberg
Music by Meg Kasdan
Cinematography by John Bailey
Edited by Carol Littleton

Favourite Scene: When the group sit around on sofas discussing Alex’s suicide, and subsequently life in general. Some excellent performances here.
Scene That Bugged Me: The resolution of the baby making subplot. No. Just no. It was awkward to watch, even though it was supposed to be endearing.

Watch it if: You were in your thirties during the eighties
Avoid it if: You’re anybody else

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Posted on December 11, 2012, in 1980s, Comedy, Drama and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

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