Death follows life follows death once again,
In a cycle we all must confront now and then.
The drama of death, though it separates souls,
Can bond those remaining, for closeness consoles.
And close are the mourning, their lives put on pause
To sing the dead’s praise and forget all his flaws.
To gather in grief, though a hard gift to give,
Reminds us that death can impel us to live.
MPAA rating: R
This review has been a long time coming, yet another of my VC’s favorites that I’ve been in no rush to revisit simply because my enthusiasm for it doesn’t come close to hers. According to her, The Big Chill ranks among her top 50 movies, and while it never approaches that kind of preference for me, I understand why she and many others consider it one of the best ensemble films ever made.
The Big Chill has two undeniable strengths that any movie would be proud to get right: a brilliant cast and a fantastic soundtrack. The story of seven former high school friends reuniting over the suicide of one of their own seems like a heavy setup, but there’s an abundance of humor and charm to accompany the mortality worries and mid-life crises. Everyone’s bound to have a favorite character, most likely the always appealing Kevin Kline or mustached Tom Berenger or even Jeff Goldblum as the kind of neurotic bloviator he plays so well. Glenn Close, JoBeth Williams, and William Hurt all have their endearing moments as well, some more low-key than others, as does Mary Kay Place, whose character sees the occasion as a chance to beat her biological clock and get pregnant by one of her old buddies. A younger Meg Tilly joins them too as the girlfriend of their dead friend Alex, played by Kevin Costner, even though any scenes with Costner recognizable were cut.
While I had trouble keeping up with everyone’s names (like the fact that there was a character named Meg but not played by Meg Tilly), the chemistry shared by everyone on screen was distinctly felt. Staying in the same house over the weekend and sharing each other’s grief only served to reawaken the natural connections they shared back in the good old days, and it’s no small feat that the actors themselves seemed to exemplify the same kind of relationships. Whether they’re goofing around in front of a video camera or engaging in surprisingly bitter arguments, they’re friends to the end, with an easy-going rapport that never feels contrived, buoyed by writer-director Lawrence Kasdan’s perceptive script and adlibbed moments from the talented cast. I especially liked a time lapse scene of the various characters waking up at different times and drifting into the kitchen throughout the early morning quiet, punctuated by a great punchline.
And then there’s the soundtrack, again ranking among the best out there. Serving as reminiscences of their glory days and sometimes oddly fitting complements to particular scenes, the likes of Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Three Dog Night, and The Temptations periodically liven the mood. The early funeral procession is especially memorable, accompanied by the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” as is the classic kitchen scene with everyone dancing to “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.”With all that in its favor, I can honestly say that I enjoyed most of The Big Chill, but the film’s resolutions started to lose me. By the end, the characters start pairing off in ways that try to skirt the issue of marital fidelity, and the solution to Mary Kay Place’s sperm hunt is both affectionately sweet and downright uncomfortable. It’s the kind of cinematic choice that easily engenders differing opinions on whether it’s right or wrong, but I can’t condone it personally. This conclusion and the intermittent profanity may cause The Big Chill to lose some of my esteem, but its talented ensemble of stars that were still rising at the time still make it worthwhile. Ensembles of this caliber are rare these days, and despite a few moral qualms with the plot, I see why my VC is so fond of this character-focused blend of nostalgic fun and drama.
Best line: (Michael, at Alex’s wake) “Amazing tradition. They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can’t come.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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