First and foremost, I am totally a child of the 80’s. There are a lot of Brat Pack movies I missed the first time around, wholly because they were about people coming to terms with things and not little monsters who ruin things, unicorns, or singing and dancing magic men. I did see The Breakfast Club in high school, so I’ve got that going for me.
That said, I’ve slowly been catching up. When I saw that St. Elmo’s Fire was on instant watch, I thought ‘well, I guess now’s the time.’
And let me absolutely crystal clear–I am not posting this negative review just to bash the film–I was genuinely surprised by how much I didn’t like it. I usually like all the actors appearing in it–but in this case, the sum was somehow less than its parts.
From the very first few seconds, as all the recent graduates walk along with their arms slung about each others’ necks, I got a sinking feeling in my stomach. There’s no more facile way to show ‘We’re all friends!’ than the ‘let’s all walk together with our arms around each other’ walk. No one does that except in photo opportunities and movies. It always comes across as fake to me, so my very first read on these people is that they are fake.
Then comes the opening scene in the emergency room, and I sort of already didn’t like anyone–especially when it turned out one of the friends was responsible for the accident. There was a little too much quipping, and the dialogue had that overly-rehearsed feel.
The rest of the movie went about the same–when Billy is on the roof of Wendy’s parents’ house and the whole family is outside clutching their pearls in shock it felt like overwritten, overwrought hysteria. Billy was less a badboy than a needy douchbag, Alec an entitled prick, and Kirby was just plain psycho. The female characters didn’t fare much better–I would have been more interested in Wendy’s arc if the film hadn’t tried to convince us she was overweight by having her wear bulky sweaters and embarrassing old-lady drawers. Mare Winningham is one of those actresses whose appearance always has me wince a little and say ‘Jesus woman, it’s called protein–make friends with it,’ so casting her as a ‘fat’ girl just felt like an insult. I’m 5’2 and go about 160–by this movie’s logic I would be a bedridden monstrosity, a human waterbed, and have to exit my house through a hole cut in the wall.
Leslie was a little more sympathetic, but felt like such a bland doormat that her epiphany towards the end of the movie felt less like her own doing than Kevin’s and Alec’s. If Alec’s infidelities hadn’t been brought to light, I doubt she would have refused his offer of marriage.
(That’s another reason I’m not crazy about this movie–relating all this bullshit makes me feel like I’m watching paint dry. I hate that I have to describe all this boring pap.)
Jules’ portrayal was a step in the right direction, but her asinine behavior at the homeless shelter (SEE? PAP!) completely negated any goodwill I had towards her. She’s an independent woman with a good career and her own apartment, when two of her male counterparts are sharing a little crappy apartment–except her Daddy’s rich, she has a severe coke habit and she’s sleeping with her married boss. See girls? Career women are never happy.
I’m glad I checked Rotten Tomatoes–apparently I’m not the only person who hated this movie. Even Ebert put it on his ‘Worst of 1985’ list, and if you’ve pissed off Ebert, you’ve seriously, seriously fucked up as a filmmaker.
The problem with this movie is that the problems these people are facing are the kinds that other people WANT to have. ‘I’m a privileged white person in the 80’s who is afraid of the possibility that the rest of my life won’t be as awesome as being a kid was. I’m going to bitch about it and make a few missteps but then everything will turn out okay.’
OH MY GOD! SOMEONE ALERT OSKAR SCHINDLER TO THE PLIGHT OF THESE PEOPLE!
I tend to think of the 80’s as a very good time for fantasy movies. But while some fantasy movies were overt about their messages and at least had the balls to have a few monsters or something to illustrate their point that you know, this was not based in reality, there’s another form of 80’s movie altogether that offered the same escapism but none of the honesty. I can’t help but think of St. Elmo’s Fire as an example of this latter–while the nation battled a recession, political scandals with the whole Iran-Contra thing, soaring rates in illiteracy and drug use, and a host of other REAL problems, the characters of St Elmo’s Fire dealt with some major First World Problems. You know what, not even First World Problems, because people in the first world can still experience racism, homophobia, mysogyny, anti-semitism and economic disenfranchisement.
These people are experiencing the horror of not having their Upper Middle Class dreams come true. Meanwhile, the real horrors of adulthood are things like compromising your dreams to support your family, having a child you can’t afford, taking care of an infirm family member or parent, or being passed over for promotions at work because you don’t know how to play office politics.
You know what this movie needed to give these people some perspective?
Principal Joe Clark.