I Saw A Film!
So not quite 40 years has gone by for this film, and so much of the pleasure of watching something like this is the bittersweet impact of the youth in the faces of these actors. From Glenn Close to Jeff Goldblum to William Hurt and Kevin Kline, people of a certain age (my age, especially) who saw this film then (and was not particularly moved by it) will be rather melancholic about the intervening years. But intervening years is rather what it’s all about. These are the thirty somethings (Rather than the early 20-something of something like St. Elmo’s Fire a few years later) who remember the sixties-seventies and are curious about how their lives have streamlined away into a cool comfort of acceptance (a small death maybe).
At some point Close wonders aloud, “Was it all just fashion?” And of course, it’s a fair question. When we arrive as questing / mountain-climbing / eager teens at a college campus or some other sort of collective in which education and future building seem to be in our hands, there’s a certain barefoot naiveté that the aging professors have to somehow look around to get actual work out of the grad-students. Year after year, decade after decades, the faces change the passions arrive, and get molded into what’s needed, or the students move on.
The precious kind of realization that a film like The Big Chill uses as a central hinge however, is something entirely lost on the campuses I inhabited over the last quarter century. Kids have moved on from the passions of social change, and progressive hopes for the future, into uber-practical system managers who know how to work an insurance form, and are collecting (under their beds since they could talk) all the necessary accoutrements for raising their own kids. Modern people aren’t dumber, they’re just a lot more shallow, even more shallow than the dippy former hippies The Big Chill glibly portrays.
Without a taste for who these people were, what we’re offered is them as “everything they used to hate”. The film stinks of having already given away the ideals, and suggests that, not only was it necessary and inevitable, but somehow “adulting”.
Central to the film is this idea that a group of folks can afford to get together for a funeral (of a suicided old buddy) and hang out for a weekend! All that says to me is that we’ve got a pile of privilege here. Indeed one of our “friends”, played by Tom Berenger, is an actor with a successful television career! Yes this is a kind of fantasy of success stories. The sorts of things that filled our young heads with our future success after our expensive educations and work-a-day blue collar fast food and service sector jobs. These are some lucky folks is what we find out, despite their momentary loss of balance around the missing friend.
Meg Tilly plays an unusually flexible misfit who was bonking the lost friend, and her cute, giddy, out of sync, outsider nonsense is the identifier for me in the film. I’m not one of the lucky ones, I’m a blue collar idealist (though, not as pretty, nor as flexible as our Meg). None of our cast are Abby Hoffman, none of them are black, none of them appear to have a scar or a story to tell. It’s all a beige play of clearly delivered lines about the confusion of the dirty real world. Nothing much happens, and in this sense it’s a truthful film, a bit of romantic comforts are toyed with, but don’t really amount to anything. No Henry Miller-esque sweetness comes out of it. Everyone is so neatly squared away it’s difficult to take it seriously. No one is impassioned, and no one has any place to be. No one seems to have children to check in with. In the end this thing has less poignancy than a typical Woody Allen farce.
This is running free on Hulu (usa). Maybe it’s time for a sequel 40 years later.