The Big Chill (1983)

big chill

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Friends from college reunite.

When one of their friends from their college days commits suicide the other seven get together for his funeral. Alex was living the unconventional, hippie lifestyle and with his much younger girlfriend Chloe (Meg Tilly) still connected to the ideals of his college days while his other friends had ‘sold out’ and taken on the more materialistic values of the ‘80’s. Alex’s death then represents the ultimate demise of their carefree, idealistic ‘60’s existence and how much they have changed since then, which they now must all learn to come to terms with.

This film has been closely compared with Return of the Secaucus Seven, which was reviewed last week. According to writer/director Lawrence Kasdan he never saw that film or even heard of it when he did this one. I actually preferred this over the John Sayles movie. For one thing it made a little more sense. Having old friends reunite for a funeral seemed more realistic than having them come together each year like in that one as most people once they enter into adult life have a tendency to move on making new relationships and not always have time for their old ones. There’s also no magical ‘cosmic bond’ holding this group together either. Many of them have evolved more than some of the others including William Hurt’s character who is still a recreational drug user while Kevin Kline’s has taken on more of the responsible adult role and this contrast comes to an interesting head at one point.

Tilly’s performance as a young flower child personified is great because it forces the others to see how they once were, but now can no longer relate to. Don Galloway plays the older husband of Karen (JoBeth Williams) while representing the ‘50’s generation and their contempt for the counter-culture. He has an interesting scene in which he expounds on what he feels was Alex’s ‘lack of focus and responsibility’ that clearly gets on the nerves of the others and I had wished the character had remained for the duration as it his presence was brimming for a great ultimate confrontation.

The entire thing was filmed on-location in Beaufort, South Carolina apparently because of Kasdan’s love for the film The Great Santini, which had also been done there. The deep south certainly seems like an odd setting as it doesn’t reflect the ‘60’s values or lifestyle at all, but it’s scenic nonetheless especially the scene where Hurt and Kline go jogging down a deserted main street of town that has an almost surreal quality.

Scenes where shot with Kevin Costner playing Alex, but then cut, which was a mistake as the character starts to attain too much of a mythical and elusive quality and seeing some moments with him even in flashback would’ve helped create an image of an actual person for the viewer. Some of the more existential conversations that the characters having during their group discussions are superb and right on-target and help to demystify the ‘60’s experience and those that lived it, which I found refreshing since other media forums for nostalgic reasons seemed to want to perpetuate it instead. In some ways it’s a shame that the characters and story has to be so closely tied to the Baby Boom generation as it stigmatizes it as a period piece when by-and-large the experiences they have going from the college stage to the adult one are quite universal.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: September 30, 1983

Runtime: 1Hour 45Minutes

Rated R

Director: Lawrence Kasdan

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

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