Sam: Do you think were
all trying to avoid dealing with Alex? You know, every time it comes up somebody
changes the subject.
Nick: Hey. Its a dead subject.
In 1983, one year after I was born, the definitive post-college
friendship movie was released. If I had seen it before going attending college,
I may have turned it off half-way through. Instead, I see it in a summer buffering
the semesters of college lore. This lets the sun shine through the window
and catch The Big Chill in the most favorable of lights.
The film opens with an off-key redition of Jeremiah was
a Bullfrog courtesy of Harolds (Kevin Kline) bathing son. Soon, the merry bliss
is broken when Harolds wife, Sarah (Glenn Close) answers the phone and receives notice of a dear friends suicide.
The doomed character of Alex was supposedly going to be
played by then up-and-comer Kevin Costner, but all his scenes wound up on the cutting room floor. Instead, we are left with only the stories and wistful looks of his college friends to make up our picture
Among the talented ensemble of actors playing the group
of friends are Tom Berenger (Platoon), William Hurt (Broadcast News, Michael), JoBeth Williams, and Jeff
Goldblum (Jurassic Park, Igby Goes Down, Independence Day). They are reuniting
after years apart to remember their friend and come to grips with what they have become after.
Many of them were radicals in college but have since settled into the establishment that they once maligned. Sam (Berenger) is a TV detective reminiscent of Magnum P.I..
Michael (Goldblum) is a writer for People magazine. Harold is the owner
of a chain of shoe stores on the cusp of sale to a major corporation. Meg (Mary
Kay Place) is a lawyer. Karen (Williams) is a suburban housewife and mother. Perhaps the only one operating outside the system of social order is Nick (Hurt) who
puts time in a drug dealer.
The personalities of the characters and their histories
get fleshed out, but not in a hokey manner similar to a brief bio when introducing themselves to Alexs spacey girlfriend Chloe
(Meg Tilly). Instead, they let their faults and forgotten dreams slip out little
by little until we have working portraits of each character. The character development
is a key part of the script and all the more impressive when you consider the size of the cast and the significant role each
character plays in the movie.
All the performances come off as natural, each cast member
doing his or her part to make the group work as a cohesive and, above all, believable group of friends. The surprising turns come courtesy of Kevin Kline, whom I have never been exactly blown away by, but who
manages to carry a vital role with considerable ease. Also, Berenger, a past
Oscar nominee now turning in crappy performances in crappy movies rarely released in theaters, displays a wounded, needy male
ego especially well even before the actors own ego must have taken his characters persona.
The real revelation is that William Hurt isnt bland. As a twenty-one year old, the only film featuring the actor that I had seen in its
entirety was Lost in Space and he was the third-worst part of a pretty disappointing movie. He waltzed through emotions like an oil painting, never letting evidence of anything other than boredom
seep through his exterior. Now, I find that Hurt is a fantastic actoror was. Regardless of present woes, Hurt turns in a piece of heaven wrapped in wit, sarcasm,
and thin smiles. Its a very, very good performance.
Lawrence Kasdan (Body Heat, Dreamcatcher, Grand Canyon,
Silverado, Wyatt Earp) directs from a script he wrote with Barbara Benedek and leads the viewer on a nostalgic journey
parallel to the one the characters are on for the duration of the film. It is
very dialogue heavy so the delivery and actual lines must be very well directed and written.
The recognition for both of the accomplished feats go to the director. At
times, the film hurts like life hurts, loves like we love, and resonates only the way the greatest movies do.