Barry: "You Can't Always Get What You Want.'"

Dick: "Um, immediately disqualified for its connection to The Big Chill."

- From an exchange about funeral songs in 2000's High Fidelity


Director: Lawrence Kasdan

Tagline: How much love, sex, and friendship can a person take?


Once upon a time a bunch of bright-eyed, youthful baby boomers met up while attending college together and had sex and did drugs and participated in marches and sit-ins and generally engaged in the wide-eyed millieu of 1960s college life and had a lot of fun. Then, they drifted apart and some of them got big grownup jobs and some of them became coke-addicted drifters and general underachievers and some of them decided to off themselves. OK, just one. His name is Alex and he was apparently some sort of troubled over/underachiever. And yes, the organist at his funeral plays "You Can't Always Get What You Want," marking the entrance of the film's real breakout star: the soundtrack.

Of course, the movie is supposed to be about a bunch of wild-eyed, fifth-column activists as they come to terms with aging; I suspect such characters would have been listening to political folk music or maybe acid rock, depending on when they went to school, but The Big Chill's soundtrack is considerably more mainstream and up-tempo than that, with a large emphasis on Motown. This, I have determined after multiple viewings, is a Good Thing.

In pop culture parliance, this film is an effective shorthand for Somewhat Overwrought Boomer Nostalgia, and not unjustifiably. The characters spend a weekend together camping out, getting stoned, having sex and eating dinner at a house owned by Sarah (Glenn Close) and Harold (Kevin Kline).

Like most of the other characters, Sarah and Harold have achieved material wealth beyond their wildest imaginings or collegiate desires, and like most of the other characters, they are somewhat uneasy with it. Early in the film, Sam (Tom Berenger), an actor on a goofy weekly action drama, says to Harold, "Who'd have thought we'd have so much bread?" and then, "Good thing we don't care about it." Kline grunts in response to the second line, matching Berenger's dry delivery. Another scene has Mary Kay Place talking about her prior ideals and lamenting, "I'd hate to think that it was all just fashion."

It's that boomer conceit -- we were special, we were going to change the world -- that sets this movie up as an easy target, for the writers of High Fidelity or for this post-boomer reviewer. It's almost too bad, because there is plenty here to like.

The most effective scenes in the film are more universal and human than that. We see each of the characters struggle with aging, parenthood and relationships, sometimes poignantly (as when Glenn Close sits against the wall of her shower, sobbing, after everyone has gone to sleep) and often humorously (Close again, rolling her eyes as she lectures her daughter over the phone). We also see some of the characters acting stupidly selfish (JoBeth Williams is pretty unlikeable as a wealthy housewife and mother of two who is gunning for Berenger's package) and also with remarkable kindness.

And, I can mock their narcisstic idealism all I want, but anyone who's left a group of friends behind will recognize herself in the characters' struggle to reconcile with their past selves. Or at the very least nod assentingly at the wisdom-slash-comic relief provided by Chloe (Meg Tilly), Alex's girlfriend, who spends much of the movie doing yoga poses and sharing spaced-out gems like, "I don't like talking about my past as much as you guys do," and, "I haven't met many happy people. How do they act?" Oh yeah, and, "Alex and I made the love the night before he died. It was fantastic."


Obligatory IMDB info:

Writing credits Lawrence Kasdan   (written by) & Barbara Benedek   (written by)

Cast (in credits order) verified as complete

Tom Berenger .... Sam

Glenn Close .... Sarah

Jeff Goldblum .... Michael

William Hurt .... Nick

Kevin Kline .... Harold

Mary Kay Place .... Meg

Meg Tilly .... Chloe

JoBeth Williams .... Karen

Don Galloway .... Richard

James Gillis .... Minister

Ken Place .... Peter the Cop

Jon Kasdan .... Harold and Sarah's Son

Ira Stiltner .... Running Dog Driver

Jake Kasdan .... Autograph Seeker (as Jacob Kasdan)

Muriel Moore .... Alex's Mother

Meg Kasdan .... Airline Hostess

Patricia Gaul .... Annie


(And, rumor has it Kevin Costner played dead guy Alex, during some flashback and corpse-dressing scenes which were later cut from the movie, leading assholes like me to posit it was his best role.)
(And, while I was still in college, a close friend and I once watched this movie and played the game of figuring out which one of the characters each of our friends would grow up to be. This got considerably less fun when I realized I was already well on the path to becoming Jeff Goldblum's self-centered, skeezy journalist character and I pretty much couldn't get out of it. Oh well.)

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