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  Big Chill, The To Absent Friends
Year: 1983
Director: Lawrence Kasdan
Stars: Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, JoBeth Williams, Don Galloway, James Gillis, Ken Place
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  4 (from 1 vote)
Review: Recently these seven university friends have suffered a major shock. Not that they are at university anymore, those days are long gone, and they have drifted out of contact with one another over the passage of time since the late nineteen-sixties into the early seventies, but they always felt a strong connection of companionship, which made it all the more of a tragedy that the eighth member of the gang they used to hang around with back then has recently committed suicide. As they gather for the funeral, they realise not only had they not seen him for about five years, but they have no idea why he would kill himself either...

The Big Chill was director Lawrence Kasdan's follow-up to his sleeper hit Body Heat of a couple of years before, and like that film in spite of nobody having any great expectations for it, a small movie which appeared to speak personally to its creator, this turned into a runaway success. One thing indicated Kasdan was learning a lesson from his old pal George Lucas who had divined an appeal in the audience for nostalgia, and that was the way both this and American Graffiti featured soundtracks littered with old tunes from the sixties, a surefire way to send its audience back to those times and the warm memories which accompanied their reveries.

But many noted the Lucas film might have been influential in its soundtrack, yet there was another film which The Big Chill owed a big debt to, and that was John Sayles' debut as a director from four years previously, The Return of the Secaucus Seven, a work also playing out as a nostalgia trip for a group of ex-student buddies, though one which was more positive than the mood Kasdan employed. Sayles went uncredited, and many of this effort's fans remained unaware of the predecessor, but in some ways it was preferable since the overall attitude to the characters in this was that they found their lives a crushing disappointment that they had frittered away on the sort of superficial business their younger selves would have sneered at.

They claim to be unaware of why their deceased pal (actually played by Kevin Costner, though he ended up on the cutting room floor, opening titles aside) ended it all, but the above is supposed to be the reason: the Baby Boomers were a bunch of sell-outs. Plenty of those must have felt the same way back in 1983 since they dived straight into this teary-eyed mush, with only a hardy few pointing out that just because you're growing older, it doesn't mean you're existing in some bastardisation of your youthful dreams, and the device of using the dead friend as symbolic of the sixties that never fulfilled their potential was both contrived and not entirely representative of that generation. Obviously nobody's life goes precisely the way they wanted it to, but my, these were self-centred personalities.

This made stars of a bunch of actors, for a while anyway, so Tom Berenger feels he has sold out because he's the star of a silly TV action show (we're meant to think of Tom Selleck, though seasoned goggle box watchers may think of Lee Horsley), Jeff Goldblum is unhappy penning flimsy showbiz stories for People magazine, Kevin Kline is obviously some kind of monster because he has a successful company, and William Hurt spends his days apparently zooming around in a Porsche while high on drugs. The women are even worse: Glenn Close and JoBeth Williams got married and settled down! Not with each other, but consider what's more terrible: Mary Kay Place never got married at all! Left on the shelf, and wanting kids, which leads to a very strange resolution to that problem which you would imagine left them unable to look one another in the eyes for decades afterwards, and this is supposed to be heartwarming. A stand-in for the naive younger generation, Meg Tilly, the dead man's girlfriend, is so shallow she's a complete moron, summing up the misguided (at best) values of The Big Chill.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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Lawrence Kasdan  (1949 - )

American writer and director with a gift for sharp, crowd-pleasing scriptwriting. Made his debut as a writer/director with the modern noir hit Body Heat in 1981, and turned in deft screenplays for blockbusters Raiders of the Lost Ark, The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. His other most notable films as director are The Big Chill and The Accidental Tourist, while Silverado and Wyatt Earp were flawed but admirable attempts to bring the western back into fashion.

 
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