Film Review: Revisiting “The Big Chill”

Not long into The Big Chill, Glenn Close sits inside a shower stall, naked, mournful, and numb. A cinematic foreshadowing of her demise by drowning in the final tense scenes of Fatal Attraction.

Close and her fellow chums in The Big Chill, 1983’s exploration into the zeitgeist of the Me Generation, are equally self-absorbed as they organize around a weekend wake that follows the unfathomable suicide of their friend, Alex.

Arriving at their host’s vacation home, they are emotionally locked, loaded and ready to spill tout ensemble into a collective early mid-life crisis. Blow dryers, cosmetics and condoms pour out of their luggage, a metaphor for the self-indulgence and emotional baggage yet to be spewed.

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 social climate in which they lived. An environment shaped by the likes of Reagan, AIDS, MTV and Motown.

Cultural awakenings of the 1960s and 1970s are behind them, but a more complicated, self-referential decade lies ahead. It’s no wonder these young urban professionals seek safe sanctuary with each other, wrapped inside the comforts of their insular past.

Yet it’s a fool’s choice. There’s too much downward societal pressure on what constitutes success to allow any one of them to see the past as a sacrosanct hiding place. Although their problems seem tame by today’s stressful societal underpinnings, it’s the dilemma they’re cursed to deal with.

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

This is a feast of acting chops on display. The resilient Kevin Kline (A Fish Called Wanda, Sophie’s Choice), the always quirky Jeff (The Fly) Goldblum, 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 demonstrate agility in the face of the ensemble’s stiff, self-conscious response to – well – just about everything .

Place these actors together in one movie, shake, marinate in the best music of our generation, then revel in this concoction of pure delight. Thirty years on, 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.

At the time of this writing The Big Chill can be found on YouTube

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(Photography provided by A. L. Ng at Unsplash)

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