Thursday, January 2, 2014

The Big Chill (1983)

Director: Lawrence Kasdan                               Writers: Lawrence Kasdan & Barbara Benedek
Music Consultant: Meg Kasdan                         Cinematography: John Bailey
Starring: Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Tom Berenger and JoBeth Williams

Lawrence Kasdan had some major success when he first began writing and directing films, but has never been very original. All of his big hits were derived from someone else’s source material. Body Heat was an unacknowledged rip-off of Double Indemnity and The Big Chill copied the premise originally set forth by Return of the Secaucus Seven. Silverado was cobbled together from any number of westerns and French Kiss was a familiar riff on the romantic comedy. Still, there’s something to be said for taking a piece of work and reimagining it for popular tastes, and he was undoubtedly a master of doing that. The Big Chill is a case in point. Where the small, independent film that inspired it was not very entertaining, Kasdan injected star power and clever writing into the premise to create a film that has had a lasting impact on popular culture.

The story begins as a group of college friends, all very successful, receive phone calls telling them that one of their group has died. They all gather at the home of the married couple among them, Kevin Klein and Glenn Close, after the funeral. Klein owns a chain of shoe stores, while Close is a doctor. TV star Tom Berenger and an executive’s housewife JoBeth Williams have had a thing for each other since college, while lawyer Mary Kay Place is looking for someone to get her pregnant. Journalist Jeff Goldblum volunteers, but he and Place had a brief fling in college and she’s not interested. She has her sights set on former psychologist and present day drug dealer William Hurt. Rounding out the cast is the dead man’s girlfriend, Meg Tilly, who doesn’t jell with the other friends because of her younger age and seeming lack of intelligence.

There’s no plot, as such. The friends stay together for an extended weekend and talk about the past and their current lives, reuniting in a way they hadn’t been since college. The dead friend was none other than Kevin Costner and his part had been shown in flashbacks during the rough cut of the film. But in doing the editing Kasdan wisely realized that his absence should be just that, and that injecting him into the film would only weaken the emphasis of the current story. One innovation of a sort was Kasdan’s decision not to use a film score. Instead he and his wife Meg picked out American rock songs from the sixties that were used strategically during the film, not only to comment on the action onscreen but to imply off screen action as well as emphasize the reminiscence of the past the characters are feeling. The Big Chill was a huge hit in its day, and it is still a humorous and enjoyable piece of ensemble work. And while seen today it is obviously lacking any cinematic merit, it’s entertaining enough that it doesn’t really matter.

No comments:

Post a Comment