Revisiting: The Big Chill

Not long into The Big Chill, Glenn Close sits inside a shower stall, naked, body wracked with tears, foreshadowing her demise by kitchen knife four years later during the tense final scenes of Fatal Attraction.

In that film, Close utters the still famous ultimatum: I will not be ignored.

Close and the main characters of The Big Chill, 1983’s exploration into the Zeitgeist of the Me Generation, are not out for blood, but equally self-absorbed as they organize around a weekend wake following the unfathomable suicide of their friend, Alex.

They’ve arrived at their host’s vacation home, emotionally locked, loaded and ready to spill tout ensemble into a collective early mid-life crisis. The blow dryers, cosmetics and condoms that pour out of their metaphorical emotional baggage give us time to prepare for the coming onslaught of self-indulgence.

But rarely has such angst been more fun.

Writer/director, Lawrence Kasdan, cleverly employs an inviting soundtrack of beloved soul, pop and R&B pop music to lull us into this group-hug of a film. And why not? We know these people. We understand the global climate in which they live, an environment shaped by the likes of Reagan, AIDS, MTV and Motown.

With the  cultural awakenings of the 1960s and 1970s behind them and a more complicated self-referential decade ahead, it’s no wonder these young urban professionals feel safer seeking sanctuary with each other, wrapped inside the comforts of an insular past.

Yet it’s a fool’s choice. There’s too much downward societal pressure about what constitutes success to allow any one of them to see the past as sacrosanct.

Kasdan and Barbara Benedick, share screenwriting credit for The Big Chill and bring these tightly-wound characters to life. We slip comfortably into the ensemble drama which launched a slew of replicas, including television’s Thirtysomething.

We’re treated to the resilient acting chops of Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda, Sophie’s Choice), the ever-quirky Jeff (The Fly) Goldblum, the durable Tom Berringer (Platoon, October Road), Poltergeist’s JoBeth Williams, a brooding William Hurt (Oscar winner for Kiss of the Spider Woman) and the agile physical presence of Meg Tilly (Agnes of God), whose yoga positions and knowing smiles show agility in the face of the ensembles stiff, self-conscious response to just about everything .

Place all of these ingredients together in one movie, shake them up, marinate in the best music of our generation and they will play out as a concoction of pure delight. Even after thirty years this film still fires on all cylinders.

A word about the deceased friend, Alex, played but never seen, by Kevin Costner, whose flashback scenes were famously left on the cutting room floor. Kasdan would ultimately offer him a breakout role in the then forthcoming film, Silverado.

The Big Chill can be found on Amazon, YouTube and Vudu. 




2 thoughts on “Revisiting: The Big Chill

  1. Constance Parrott November 27, 2017 — 12:05 am

    Sorry, my memories of The Big Chill are muted. Hubby and I were newlyweds, lost in that honeymoon euphoria, when we impulsively decided to drop into the dollar theater one night after working late. Bought our tickets, ignoring a sign in the window. The theater was half full. We settled in and grumbled at the chill. Management announced the heater was not working that winter night. Everyone laughed. Many people left. We stuck it out. Our teeth chattered, and we had to hug our popcorn and each other for warmth. Sadly, our concentration focused on our “chill” rather than the folks on the screen. Maybe for our 36th anniversary, we should watch it again. The actors might get our sympathy this time around.

  2. Doesn’t seem like the ideal situation to see a film. 🤔

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