Sunday, July 21, 2013

CANON OF FILM: "THE BIG CHILL"

THE BIG CHILL (1983)

Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Screenplay: Lawrence Kasdan & Barbara Benedek



It is probably the greatest opening credits sequence in the history of film. We meet all the people in the film in their own environments in some way, whether that be in a house giving their kids a bath, (Kevin Kline and Glenn Close) whether that’s working in a high rise law office, on an airplane being pestered for an autograph or even just doing yoga stretches, not mentioning one person who’s face we never see who seems to be very cautiously getting dressed, all the while hearing Marvin Gaye’s version of “I’ve Heard It Through the Grapevine,” blasted really loud, as though it were calling out to the characters to all gather. It is only near the end of the song do we completely realize what is it they’re gathering for, as it’s suddenly clear that at the very least, the way that man is being dressed is not quite normal, only to make it clear he is being dressed by an undertaker. And yet, I have always felt a little apprehension about adding “The Big Chill,” to the Canon. This film does have inherent problems like the lack of any real story arc/plot, or for that matter, how the ending of the film comes quite suddenly. Yet, this movie pretty much started a subgenre of movies where numerous characters are brought together and talk. You can see the influence in works of people as varied as Linklater to Sayles to Louis Malle and others. The film is a gathering of seven college friends from the University of Michigan, back in the Haight-Asbury sixties, who are now dealing with the adulthood real world of the 1980s, after the funeral of one of their old classmates who killed himself. We learn about each of their lives, Sarah & Harold (Kevin Kline and Oscar-nominee Glenn Close) are married with kids and he’s become an entrepreneur in the shoe business and wonders about how Nick (William Hurt), a former Vietnam vet who thru a war injury became impotent, continues to bounce from job to job and empty pill bottle to empty pill bottle, currently working in advertising. There’s Meg (Mary Kay Place), a former defense attorney turned business lawyer who after having an abortion in college, is now desperate for a child of her own, man or no man. Michael (Jeff Goldblum) a People Magazine writer trying to open his own bar, who’s only too happy to jump into bed with Meg or any female available, including Karen (JoBeth Williams) who’s in an unhappy marriage to an upscale yuppie, trying to get together with Sam (Tom Berenger), who’s a divorced actor on a “Magnum P.I.” type show, and is constantly worried whether he’s doing a good work as an actor. Chloe (Meg Tilly) is the one left out, a young free-spirit who was Alex’s girlfriend at the time of his death, and is the one who found his body. Alex (Kevin Costner, uncredited), we learn about only secondhand, and even then the tension is thick. He apparently passed on an opportunity to study abroad in the field of science when he was young, and seemed to constantly struggle with adulthood ever since, and all those in the house wonder how close or likely they are to similar results, and why people seem to get colder as they grow older. Originally, a flashback sequence was shot for a week, which included Costner, which depending on who you ask, was probably never intended to be used, but what it did do was help the actors get into their characters, as they played them as college students, they could then play them better as adults, and it seems to work well. If there is an issue with the film, it might be that the acting is so sharp and they know these characters so well, that on first viewings, we may feel like an uninvited guest to a party, as we don’t have an real protagonist to follow us or enter us into this world, as everybody’s basically already set. That said, on later viewings, you realize that’s a strength, as the film goes on, the more and more we can see them as young idealistic college students, who’ve grown into these more philosophical and cautious adults. Written and directed by Lawrence Kasdan, who became famous for having the best unfilmed script in Hollywood, “The Bodyguard,” (eventually made, ironically starring Kevin Costner) which got him a job writing the scripts to the last two “Star Wars,” films in the 1st trilogy, and eventually, “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” before directing his first feature, the erotic neo-noir “Body Heat,” and later “The Accidental Tourist,” and “Grand Canyon,” among others. Now his son Jon is directing his own films including “In the Land of Women”, as well as the Pilot for “New Girl”, he’s seen in the movie as a little kid in a bathtub being taught the words to Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World.” (The film’s soundtrack is regarded as one of the best, filled with a collection of classic pop rock and Motown of the era.) The question I always after watching “The Big Chill” is “I wonder what that 80s yuppie generation thinks about this world now, or for that matter, what I will think of myself today many years down the road?” Of course, now I can ask that about my ‘90s generation, although I’d rather not think about that, myself.  
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