Friday, April 13

The Big Chill: Favorite Movie #43

1983 Comedy Drama
From Columbia Pictures
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan

Tom Berenger
Glenn Close
Jeff Goldblum
WIlliam Hurt
Kevin Kline
Mary Kay Place
Meg Tilly
JoBeth Williams
Don Galloway

It's not likely that most of you have agreed with my favorite films so far.  Some perhaps have agreed with one or two.  Some might have seen a certain film listed as a favorite and wondered whether I am stark-raving mad in my choices.  The same, of course, could be said for anyone's top favorites list.  But one film I daresay most people would agree on (or most people of a certain generation) is The Big Chill.  Am I wrong?  You liked it.  Didn't you?  Maybe it would make your favorites list.

This movie owes everything to Lawrence Kasdan, its director and co-writer and originator.  He was and probably still is fond of recalling his days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at U of M.  While there he had a friend that he really admired but in some of their chats he found the friend's thoughts as being counter to his own and he was so astonished that a chill came over him, he recalls.  It was a big chill as it turns out.

Along with co-writer Barbara Benedek they fashioned a story with such a universal appeal that it resonates today... and I do mean today because I just finished watching it (as has become the custom for these favorites).  I feel so upbeat and joyous.  So hell yeah, joy to the world... joy to you and me.

I cannot lie.  Part of the film's immense appeal to me is that musical soundtrack.  They had money left after making this film to pay for all those glorious songs?  I was sure Joy to the World was my favorite and then it was Ain't Too Proud to Beg and then I Heard It Through the Grapevine and frankly just about every one of the 15 or so other songs pulsating throughout the film.  What a rush.

Everyone knows what The Big Chill is about but in case you are one of the two or three who were on vacation in the jungles of the Amazon and have seen no TV since, seven old college buddies gather in beautiful Beaufort, South Carolina, to attend the funeral of the eighth college chum who has committed suicide.  They end up spending the weekend at the home of two of them and we are treated to laughter and love and reminiscing and spats and cynicism and fun and introspection and friendship.

I dearly loved the writing... and every character was given something memorable to say and to keep the story advancing.  The writers have said it was all very planned out, very structured.  And we are so cleverly introduced to the main characters by having each of them react to hearing the news of their friend's passing.  Later on another shrewd scene is watching several of them unpack... a lovely way really to get to know some things about them.  There was a wonderful kitchen scene where we are treated to a time-lapse sort of photography showing each person coming into the kitchen for coffee and breakfast.

This is ensemble acting as good as it gets. 

Glenn Close and Kevin Kline are the happily married couple, Sarah and Harold.  She's a doctor and he's a shoe store magnate.  They're doing very well living in one of those gorgeous South Carolina homes with Spanish moss dripping off large, sturdy, old trees.  A long dock goes out into the beautiful waters off their sprawling property.  Somewhere in the vicinity lived their friend Alex and his girlfriend Chloe.  All was well until Alex killed himself.  

Tom Berenger plays Sam, a handsome television actor doing work he's not really proud of.  He's divorcing his wife who has not come along.  He has taken a shine to Karen, played by JoBeth Williams but not as much as she glows around him.  Her husband Richard, played by Don Galloway, has come along but he doesn't think so much of her friends and she doesn't think so much of him anymore either.  He leaves the next day.  Karen and Sam get, um, reacquainted before they leave.

Mary Kay Place is Meg, an attorney.  (U of M always turns out the top professionals.)  She hears her biological clock ticking and there's no one around to help her with the alarm.  In the film's most talked-about story lines, Sarah feels for Meg's plight and after some comedy scenes with the other options, Sarah offers Harold to father Meg's child.  In all my travels with a gaggles of friends, I have yet to hear of this happening.  Kudos though to the writers and actors for pulling this off so convincingly and so lovingly.  If I have a favorite character, it's likely Meg. 

William Hurt is Nick.  I guess Nick deals drugs.  Don't think they actually said that but can't recall any profession given as happened with the others.  All gatherings have a Nick.  This one is cynical, speaks his mind and keeps the momentum of the film going.

Many gatherings have a Michael, too, played by Jeff Goldblum.  He's not quite what you would call a wallflower or a dweeb, but he's certainly working on it.  He is a People Magazine writer and horny and unfulfilled.  He provided much of the comedy.

Meg Tilly's Chloe is not one of the college group but is part of this weekend because as Alex's girlfriend, they want to extend a hand.  Her character is given the least to do and she's a little too wan for these proceedings to be of a lot of much interest.

Again, the acting is uniformly excellent.  All these actors have commented on the good time, the intimate, fun times they had making this film and it shows. 

I loved some of the lines:

Meg:  The last time I spoke with Alex, we had a fight.  I yelled at him.

Nick:  That's probably why he killed himself.

Later on Sam is saying to some of the others:   In L.A. I don't know who to trust.  It seems like everyone wants something from me.

Meg: It's a cold world out there.  I'm getting a little frosty myself.

Before Richard leaves earlier than his wife, he's in the kitchen with two of the guys.  He says:  Nobody said it was going to be fun.  At least they didn't say it to me.

Sarah and Meg are having that conversation about Meg getting pregnant that very weekend.

Sarah:  It doesn't always happen the first time.

Meg:  That isn't what they told us in high school.

Chloe says, after being asked about an earlier time in her life:  I don't like talking about my past as much as you people.

And later she says she has not met that many happy people and then asks how they act.

So many gems tucked away in this insightful writing.

It was interesting to see the various characters' self-absorption, some desperation, some giving up, some aspiring to have even more, to speculate how life has turned out from their college days.  I have said before that I love films where all the characters are thrown together and we are just treated to so many jewels of acting and writing.  That is all here.  I also relate to this film so strongly because old friends gathering (not especially for a funeral, mind you) are some of the best times I have had in my life.  Most of all The Big Chill is about the joys of friendship. Sarah says to all of them at one point:  I was at my best when I was with you people.  I relive all those times with good friends when I see this film.  Of course, it being set in the south doesn't damper a thing.

My God next year this film will be 30 years old.  I can't hardly believe it.  I was their ages at that same time.  Where has the time gone?

Let's dance:

NEXT POSTING:  The Goddess


  1. I got the "chill" as soon as I saw the title of the review. "I was at my best when I was with you people" hits the nail on the head. It doesn't get any better than that!

  2. Having recently rewatched this movie, I suddenly had a thought about the reason Alex killed himself. The first night Sam and Nick are talking to Richard, who says "The thing about kids is, they're instant priorities...I wonder if Alex knew that. It's for damn sure he couldn't live with it." So, was Chloe pregnant?