Ten years after they were college radicals in 1969, schoolteachers Mike (Bruce MacDonald) and Katie (Maggie Renzi) have settled in New Hampshire, but they don't feel as if they have left their former ideals behind. They are preparing a reunion for them and their friends, the ones they called the Secaucus Seven after they were arrested while trying to go on an anti-Vietnam War march way back when. They are all supposed to have grown up by now, as they're around the age of thirty these days, but for some of them getting their lives sorted out was not as easy as it was for others...
You can credit the independent American cinema movement to John Sayles, and this unassuming little film that he created with his own money, funds he had raised while working as a screenwriter for producer Roger Corman in the late seventies. About the time this was being widely released, Sayles' scripts for Alligator and Battle Beyond the Stars had been made and were rivalling this for space in theatres, except that in spite of adopting the style of Corman's making the most of a small budget with alternative options, Sayles had invented something wholly itself, distinctive as much for its methods as it was for its quality.
Of course, there were precedents - you could easily have made this in France without having to alter anything except the language, and there were films that came after which followed its lead, the most famous one being the bigger budgeted and starrier The Big Chill, although the characters there were more of a sell out to their former lives than anyone in the Secaucus Seven. Whether this kickstarting a subgenre is a good thing or not depends on how much introspective conversation you could take, with some examples - others would say most - featuring ageing pals reuniting to take a good look at their progress simply grating and horribly self-indulgent.
This could not be accused of that so much because it was one of the originals, certainly unique at the time in American cinema, but watching it now it is hard to go back to the sense of novelty, of freshness, that greeted it when it initially became a cult sensation. Yes, it inspired a host of imitators who thought, hey, I can do that, and probably still does as that experience runs through each new generation of filmmakers getting their debut projects off the ground, but now the Secaucus Seven doesn't half look mannered and stagy. There's a scene early on where they go to see a play, and the amateurish acting there is intended to contrast with the more naturalistic style in the film.
However, it doesn't look like that now, as if anything it turns you off the characters for looking like culutral snobs, and makes you uncomfortable with the cast and Sayles' script as it comes across as forced, with the drama arising contrived rather than organic. That sounds strange to say considering how effective Sayles could be in the future, but you can excuse him perhaps as it's clear he was learning his craft here, and some of his choices - a fast-edited basketball game, some skinny dipping - are canny enough to break up the acres of talk. It is true that this lot do convince as old friends, possibly because in some cases they were, and the point in life where you start to wonder where all the time is going and what have you done with it anyway is sure to strike a chord eventually, something neatly conveyed here. With an open ending, it can be an inconsequential watch, but the main problem now is getting on with its characters.
A career as a writer (The Howling, Enormous Changes at the Last Minute) and script doctor financed his subsequent movies: lesbian love story Lianna, romance Baby It's You, offbeat sci-fi The Brother from Another Planet, union drama Matewan, baseball scandal Eight Men Out, ensemble piece City of Hope, Lone Star, Men with Guns, survival adventure Limbo, Sunshine State, political satire Silver City and war drama Amigo. Also in small roles as an actor (Something Wild, Malcolm X, Matinee).