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Thread: St. Elmo's Fire (1985)

  1. #1
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    Apr 2004
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    Default St. Elmo's Fire (1985)

    St. Elmoís Fire (1985)
    Mare Winningham, Demi Moore, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, and Andie McDowell. Directed by Joel Schumacher.

    No fan of Brat Pack films should admit heís in his mid-forties and still hasnít seen Joel Schumacherís St. Elmoís Fire, one of two films that literally define the Brat Pack itself, yet until this weekend I had not seen it. It was rated R by the MPAA and I was sixteen when it was in theaters, and for some reason I just never got caught up. My parents were strict about movies, and although Iíd seen The Breakfast Club in high school at my fatherís urging, the number of R-rated films I saw before I turned eighteen is about equal to the number of Brat Packers who served their detention at Shermer High School on that storied Saturday.

    Iím kind of glad I waited this long, because what the movie lacks in believable script, admirable characters, and thoughtful dialogue, it makes up for, twenty-nine years later, in nostalgia, at least for an aging Gen-Xer like me. The quality of this nostalgia makes the movie much more likable than it deserves, and thatís okay with me.

    Seven recent Georgetown University graduates, best friends in college and still best friends a few months later, work through a variety of issues. Wendy, a welfare worker played by Mare Winningham, struggles to find an identity separate from her wealthy familyís greeting-card business, wanting to make her own way on her terms, and not to rush into marriage and family with another of her fatherís hand-picked employees. Sheís not-so-secretly in love with Billy (Rob Lowe, typically creepy). Billyís still trying to hang onto a frat-boy life, despite being the only one in the group with a spouse and child. Heís good enough a saxophone player to have his own band and a regular gig at a favorite bar, but he canít hold down any of the regular day jobs he gets recommended for by his friend Alec.

    Alec, played by Judd Nelson, is an aspiring politico, working for a Democratic congressman but making a move to work instead for a Republican, because thereís more money there. Heís living with (and begging to be married to) Leslie (Ally Sheedy). Leslieís not in a hurry to wed because she hasnít established a career yet, and doesnít want to be identified as someoneís wife before sheís found an identity as her own person. Alecís best friend Kevin, an aspiring newspaper writer played by Andrew McCarthy, seems to be struggling with sexual identity issues after a conversation in which Jules (Demi Moore) tries to convince him heís gay. Jules, a bank employee, is living well beyond her means in a huge apartment and in what weíve come now to think of as a stereotypical partying yuppie lifestyle.

    The groupís seventh member, and the only one who doesnít seem to have issues with any of the others, is Kirby, played by Emilio Estevez. Heís a waiter in the groupís hangout, St. Elmoís Bar, and I write about him separately because his piece of the plot surrounds the pursuit of an older Georgetown alumna, Dale (Andie McDowell), a physician at an area hospital, and Kirbyís interactions with the group are a lot less involved. Kirby goes to ridiculous lengths to woo Dale, and if certain other characters remind one of the better teen films of the Eighties, Kirby seems to be there to remind one of the most juvenile, least believable of those films. Or, to give Schumacher the benefit of the doubt, perhaps heís there as a foil for Billy. Where Billy has the reality of a real grown-up life with grown-up responsibilities heís too immature to deal with, Kirby is still playing a childís game with grown-up pieces and no sense for real, post-college relationships.

    In one sense, St. Elmoís Fire seems to do a pretty good job of tapping into what we now remember as Gen-X angst. Those first uncertain steps out of college and into career are riddled for all of us with countless missteps and misconceptions; for people my age they were also complicated by a few issues unique to us: following in the ridiculous wake left by the Boomers before us in a suddenly post-Cold-War world where things we learned to fear were slowly fading and things we learned to value were crashing down around us. Three of seven characters in this film have marriage issues at age 22, something that should not be lost on critics who might accuse it of lacking relevance.

    Yet where the film manages to find that space where characters struggle with the things we really struggled with, they are sequined with details and plot elements that do not do those characters (or the talented actors who play them) justice. Schumacherís crimes are not egregious; except for the entirety of the Kirby plot, the story is mostly believable and not difficult to relate to. But where John Hughesís The Breakfast Club gave us the feeling that its five characters might possibly say and do the things they say and do, the St. Elmoís gang doesnít seem to know how to have an interesting conversation.

    And this is unfortunate, because where most of my nostalgia comes from is this group of beautiful, likable, fairly talented actors who are an indelible memory of my childhood, actors who played characters who played a part in my defining who I was, separate from the Boomers of my parentsí generation and yet destined in retrospect to figure it out in a way that was my own and yet not that different. Ally Sheedyís pointed chin, Judd Nelsonís flared nostrils, Demi Mooreís raspy come-hither voice: they immediately take me back to a time when I naively thought that I would never sell out, when I thought I was different, a future world-changer.

    Thereís no way Schumacher could have know thatís what these actors, not yet dubbed the Brat Pack, would come to represent. He could not possibly have known he was making an iconic film with an iconic soundtrack and iconic actors that someone like me, forty years later, could even get this wistful about, but maybe thatís my biggest criticism. My nostalgia deserves a better movie than this. John Hughes did it, and I think itís fair to criticize Schumacher for not doing it too.

    Despite these shortcomings, I enjoyed the heck out of this movie and will likely see it again. If not the ten million times Iíve seen The Breakfast Club, then perhaps just one or two million.

    6/10 (IMDb rating)
    67/100 (Criticker rating)
    But I'm disturbed! I'm depressed! I'm inadequate! I GOT IT ALL! (George Costanza)

  2. #2

    Default Re: St. Elmo's Fire (1985)

    I am going to make a point of viewing this film.

    As usual a great review from a great reviewer.

    All the


  3. #3

    Default Re: St. Elmo's Fire (1985)

  4. #4

    Default Re: St. Elmo's Fire (1985)

    That kind of electrical discharge is very real , and very frightening if it happens on a airplane flight.

    When I was a tiny wee youngster my mother and my two brothers were on an Icelandic Air plane bound for Gander and then Idlewilde.

    The plane had gotten about 15 minutes out and I looked out the window and part of the cowling had ripped free and the engine block had a visible crack.

    the crew issued us lifejackets and were very expert survival savants.

    The crew turned on landing lights and I could see whitecaps about 500 meters below.

    The crew very skill fully brought the craft back to Reykavik.

    Bacon and scrambled eggs never tasted better than that breakfast.


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