It’s Complicated: “The Big Chill”

Sorry for the delayed post. I was going to post this review yesterday, but I got tied up doing some work for an Obie alum film, Ivory. I won’t reveal exactly what I’ve been doing for them yet–I can’t very well tell you all on my blog before I tell my parents the exciting news, now can I?–but I will in my next post! It’s very exciting!

In any case, I was originally going to review 21 Grams, but I got about thirty minutes into the movie, and decided I’d much rather review something I enjoy. So I decided on The Big Chill.

To say Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill is your typical ‘80’s film about friendship would be wholly incorrect. Sure, it was released in 1983, and it is about a group of old Michigan college friends, but the film is done in such a way that it makes the concept of friendship, both new and enduring, in and of itself interesting.

The film opens with each of seven old college friends receiving a phone call to inform them that one of their old college buddies, Alex, has committed suicide. But what makes the opening sequence so spectacular—and how you know it’s just going to be a fantastic film—is the way in which each call reveals something about the characters; and the way in which Kasdan precedes each call with some aspect of dressing Alex’s corpse drives home just how important these friends are to each other, and how deeply Alex’s death has affected them. You never actually see Alex’s face, but it doesn’t matter. The point is not who Alex was as an individual; it is who he was to each of the characters that is important.

The friends reunite at the South Carolina home of their now-wealthy friends, Sarah and Harold Cooper, played respectively by Glenn Close and Kevin Kline. Joining them is Alex’s girlfriend of four months, Chloe, played by the apparently incredibly flexible Meg Tilly.

(No, seriously. She’s like a freaking ballerina.)

One thing leads to another, and the old college crowd plus Chloe end up staying at the Coopers’ place for the weekend. And when old friends who haven’t seen each other in years get together, let’s just say things are bound to get interesting.

To sum up the basics:
1) Meg Jones, played by Mary Kay Place, is a self-described “ticking biological clock,” and wants a baby before it’s too late. And since she’s amongst her best friends, Meg figures, “Why not?” and proceeds to try to get one of her male friends to impregnate her. Slightly strange? Yeah. But not as weird (and minorly awkward) as what eventually does end up happening on that front. I’ll just leave it at that.

2) Harold gives some insider information about his prospering company to Nick Carlton, a drug addict and dealer, played by William Hurt, in order to try to get him to turn his life around. As it turns out, though, Nick has a few more problems than just drugs. Has he ever told you what happened to him in Vietnam?

3) If you thought there was a lot of sexual tension between Tom Berenger’s corny ‘80’s detective show star Sam Weber, and JoBeth Williams’ housewife and ex-writer Karen Bowens in the beginning of the movie, just you wait. The tension between them grows exponentially throughout the movie, and the way in which they interact with each other is markedly different than the ways in which the other friends interact. Sam and Karen are clearly more than just friends; and before the first half-hour is over, you want to scream at them to stop running around each other, and just get the deed over and done with already (for chrissake!).

4) Chloe is cute, and a bit of an oddball: Her reason for wanting to ride in the limousine at Alex’s funeral is not because she was his girlfriend, but because she’s never ridden in a limo before. But her strangeness—as well as the fact that she answers the door in her underwear—only adds to her cuteness. As a result, Nick and Michael, played by Jeff Goldblum, not-so-subtly vie for her attention. But while Michael has all the suave, playboy charm his job as a journalist at People magazine has afforded him, Nick has the advantage of knowing how to mix his drugs. You’ll understand when you see the movie.

So yeah. It’s complicated.

Fortunately, complicated relationships and fun movies are not mutually exclusive. It would not be a stretch to say that the film welcomes you into the somewhat crazy, but incredibly warm, world of the characters and their relationships. By the end of the movie, you, like the characters, wish the weekend hadn’t ended so quickly.

(There’s a reason I watched this movie twice in the span of two days.)

But the end of the movie isn’t really an ending. It’s a new beginning for the characters, not only for them as individuals, but as a group of friends. When they say they’ll all keep in touch and write to each other, you believe them; you can sense that it’s not just a throwaway, empty promise. The characters treat each other with such a sense of natural ease and innate love that it’s hard to believe they’d even lost touch in the first place!

Of course, good acting helps on that front. I don’t need to say it, but I will, anyway: The acting is spectacular. Each actor has his or her character down to a ‘T,’ and the way in which the actors deliver their lines is completely natural, as if they were simply speaking unscripted. Not only that, but they all seem so familiar with each other, that it’s hard to believe they’re not close friends off-screen, too. To be quite frank, you would be hard-pressed to find another cast that emanates such a strong feeling of kinship.

Last, but certainly not least, the soundtrack is the best of ‘80’s Mowtown. Among the songs are classics like Marvin Gaye’s “Heard It Through The Grapevine,” and Aretha Franklin’s “Natural Woman.” So unless you’re a cold fish, the tunes will almost certainly have you tapping your toes, if not dancing around the kitchen like the characters do at one point in the movie.

In short, in order not to like this movie, you’d have to be really, really boring.

Or dead.

One of the two.

Ever yours,

Film Bitch

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