And then there were seven…
One time friends meet up at their university friend’s funeral after his suicide. They spend the weekend together and are joined by the dead man’s young girlfriend.
The Big Chill Trailer 1983, Video Detective and photos © Columbia Pictures
Where we kids of Generation X had St Elmo’s Fire (1985), our baby boomer parents had The Big Chill (1983). The latter is a comedy-drama film with an ensemble cast of 1980s American acting talent. This film was made before many of them rose to A list stardom with more than one of them an Oscar nominee or winner.
This film also has a sensational sixties soundtrack and some marvellous montages. It was both directed and written by Lawrence Kasdan. The Big Chill tells of seven university friends who reunite – after around fifteen years apart – at a mutual friend’s funeral after his suicide.
The seven friends are Harold (Kevin Kline), Sarah (Glenn Close), Sam (Tom Berenger), Michael (Jeff Goldblum), Meg (Mary Kay Place), Karen (JoBeth Williams) and Nick (William Hurt). Spending the weekend with them is the dead friend’s young girlfriend, Chloe (Meg Tilly).
Over the weekend the seven reminisce and talk about the people they once were. They share their then shared experiences, catch up and talk about how life is for them now, and talk about their hopes and their younger selves. Along with the deceased man’s girlfriend Chloe, the eight have fun times, laugh together and remember and dance to the music of the sixties (a time of their youth for the seven).
Some take marijuana, some talk about affairs, some play football and some find they’ve been in love with each other for years. The seven also talk about Alex and their times with him back at University and since then. Chloe talks about the man as she knew him before his suicide.
Through the seven’s conversations and stories, we learn about the original group’s lives just before Vietnam, at a time when they all left university. They left the University of Michigan as “revolutionaries” hoping to change the world in their chosen careers, in politics, in law and in the Vietnam war.
Yet now in the yuppie 1980s, they are now in their late 30s and disillusioned with life, love and themselves. Alex’s untimely death allows them to reminisce on the idealistic people they once were in the late 1960s and their now reality who they have become in the mid-1980s. For many of them, they feel it’s not a pretty thought.
The film plot is aptly described by Jeff Goldblum in an in-film moment as one of the seven, a reporter Michael. This as Michael talks to his editor at the funeral reception about this upcoming weekend;
…it’s about everything: Um… suicide, despair, where did our hope go? Lost hope, that’s it, lost hope.
The film’s opening credits show in a kinda montage and prologue our eight leading stars as their characters This as they respond to the news about Alex’s untimely death. There are wee clues about these people, their now lives and their personalities. This is reinforced in the items they unpack for the weekend which establishing the characters as they are now.
Now to more on those characters. Harold (Kevin Kline) and Sarah Cooper (Glenn Close), are the only apparently happily married couple within these friends. The Coopers host both the funeral reception and the weekend in their rambling country house. She’s now a doctor and he has his own company selling footwear (but he confides with Nick that is about to be bought out by a major company), and they have a young child.
The funeral appears to have hit Sarah the hardest and it’s revealed that she had a fling with Alex five years previously. Harold is probably the easiest going of the group, yet he’s a wee bit insecure after his wife’s affair.
Michael (Jeff Goldblum) is currently a reporter for a celebrity themed magazine. He aspires to write better more meaningful stories, yet his editor is not interested. He’s a bit of a flirt with all the women in the group, despite being seen in a relationship in the opening montage. He has a quirky humour and is shown with a quick fun response to those more serious conversation starters.
Sam (Tom Berenger), is an actor. He is currently the leading man of a successful TV series. He is disillusioned with his “friends” in Hollywood and fancied Karen when they were students back in the day. There’s obviously a wee bit of sexual tension between them. He, however, doesn’t act on it (immediately) believing she’s happily married and meeting her husband at the funeral reception.
Nick (William Hurt), was a one-time radio psychologist who served in the Vietnam War and he tells others that he is now impotent. He now sells illicit drugs and he’s quite cynical and scathing about his old profession and its users. He’s supportive of his friends, particularly Harold and the newcomer, Chloe. He learns to appreciate the supportive man he once was through Chloe.
Meg (Mary Kay Place) is now a successful corporate lawyer, who used to work for people for the right reasons and that she now calls “scum”. She’s single and not so secretly hoping one of her old university friends will help her out as her biological clock ticking, as she wants to be a mother.
Karen (JoBeth Williams), was a one time writer of short stories and poetry and had a bit of a crush on Sam at University. Now, she is unhappily married to Richard, and still in love with Sam. Richard and Karen have two boys – who are big fans of Sam – and she is now bored with her life.
Chloe (Meg Tilly) was Alex’s girlfriend. She is much younger than the others and is seen doing yoga in the credits. She had found Alex after his suicide and was in love with him The pair had been renovating a house on the grounds of Harold and Sarah’s house.
I loved the instant rapport the characters had on meeting up at the funeral. United in grief, they seemed to fall into their old roles within the group. Although it’s suggested they haven’t seen each other in years, it’s clear that some have crossed paths, for better and worse.
Even Chloe has met members of the group before. She tells how she called up Nick’s radio show as a young girl and he gave her support. Meg tells how she had an argument with Alex before he died and Michael wrote an expose on Sam’s failed marriage.
Despite the funeral, there was little awkwardness between the friends. When members of the group attempt to talk about Alex, a reply is often returned with humour. It’s like a defence mechanism, as it hurts too much to think about him and the past. At times this humour is timed brilliantly, other times it feels a bit dismissive.
Chloe finds herself at odds with this older group. She feels they are obsessed with the past, in contrast, she says she doesn’t like to talk about herself. Later she opens up to Nick about Alex and talks to him about Alex and who he was as a person before he died. Chloe is the key to Alex in the now, while the others tell her how he was.
It seems he was a promising Physics student who turned down a scholarship, then worked in Social Work. We only see Alex in the opening credits, as we see parts of his body dressed for his funeral. His role was initially to be seen in a flashback to the group in the sixties as they prepared a Thanksgiving dinner. But this scene was cut from the final version as it confused the audience. Alex was played by an uncredited Kevin Costner, making this probably one of the oddest film (now) cameos ever with his body parts seen in the opening credits.
After the opening credits, there are a few great montages. I’ve written about the one where they prepare dinner in a previous post regarding the soundtrack of this film HERE. However, one track gets a special mention this film review was written as part of a 1st and 10 Blog-A-Thon, hosted by Dubsism and The Midnite Drive-In. The hosts of this blogathon had asked bloggers to review films with American footballers, about American football or with a scene where American Football was played.
So guys, in my defence, this film boasts an American football-related scene or two. The Big Chill has many of the characters watching a Michigan game with Harold dressed up in a wee bonnet and scarf to cheer them on. A Rolling Stone article wrote about this part in the movie saying
this mostly involves Jeff Goldblum making wisecracks about the Wolverines’ gaudy helmets and Schembechler’s occupational stress…
Following this in the film, a game of touch football is seen in a montage accompanied by (something I do know about – the Big Chill soundtrack) The Spencer Davis Group singing Gimme Some Lovin’.
In the course of writing this post, I watched a documentary about the events that occurred behind the scenes of this film. I learned that this cast spent more time in rehearsals than filming this film. The cast members each were given a second script about the scenes of what occurred in between those filmed scenes.
This ensuring characters would have the same common understanding of characters and a shared history when filming the movie. The cast was also asked to make dinner together in character and then left to improvise for many hours to promote their on-screen camaraderie.
The actors also spent an intensive time together off set in bonding exercises. These activities make their on-screen friendship and rapport more convincing. In the evenings they spent their time playing charades and playing other games eg trivial pursuits and poker. The film’s acting talent all talk warmly and affectionately about their off-screen moments. So I’m asking, instead of another reboot or remake of this film, why not just add some of this unheard script and those behind the scenes moments. Now that’s a Director’s Cut I’d want to see.
Weeper Rating: 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦 😦/10
Handsqueeze Rating: /10
Hulk Rating: /10
Bonus Trailer: No
This post was added to Dubsism and The Midnite Drive-In’s 1st and 10 Blog-A-Thon. Other posts with this cast include Jeff Goldblum in Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Tall Guy, The Fly, Grand Budapest Hotel, Thor Ragnarok and his recent blogathon. Tom Berenger in my 80s Crushes. William Hurt in Captain America Civil War, The Accidental Tourist and AI: Artificial Intelligence. JoBeth Williams in Kramer vs Kramer. Glenn Close in Jagged Edge and Mars Attacks. Kevin Kline in Dave and Soapdish. Mary Kay Place in Californication and MASH. The Big Chill soundtrack was also reviewed HERE.