Turn Back The Clock

Movie Review

The Big Chill

Distributed By: Columbia Pictures

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            Once in a while, a movie comes along that you thought was pretty good the first time you watched it, but the point of the movie never really hit you.  Then, years later, you watch it again and you say, ďWow!  What a terrific movie!Ē  When I first watched The Big Chill, I was a teenager and I thought the movie was well done with a terrific ensemble cast and an amazing soundtrack.  I loved the soundtrack so much, I bought the album the first chance I got.  But the real effect of the movie was lost on a teenager just graduating high school.  Seeing this movie as an adult is really what drives the meaning of the movie home.

            The story begins with a group of college friends reuniting to attend the funeral of one of their group who has committed suicide. We never get to meet Alex (a part played by Kevin Costner that ended up on the cutting room floor), but we learn about him through his friends as they try to make sense of his death and their lives. Each member of the group has secret yearnings that come to the forefront after this tragedy. Alex's suicide causes each of them to examine their lives more closely. Sam Weber is an actor, who despite the fame and fortune, still longs for the girl and the life he left behind. Sarah and Harold Cooper, a happily married couple, struggling to deal with the fact that Alex committed suicide in their home, wonder what they could have done to prevent Alex's downward spiral. Meg Jameson is a lawyer, who has begun to realize that she has put her career over everything else in her life. Michael Goldman is a reporter for People Magazine, who begins to realize that what he has become is not even close to what he always wanted to be. Karen Bowens, a housewife who got everything she thought she was supposed to want out of life, starts to realize that she never truly wanted any of it. Nick Williams is a cynical, unhappy man who wanders through life seeking to try every new experience, but never truly appreciating life. Throughout the film, parallels are drawn between Nickís character and that of AlexÖparallelís that both scare and fascinate Nick.

            The ensemble cast of The Big Chill includes Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly and Jobeth Williams.  Separately, each of these actors has incredible talent.  Together, this group has so much charisma and energy, it just makes the story that much more believable.  The viewer can truly believe that this is a bunch of old college friends, reuniting over the loss of one of their own and figuring out how to get their lives back on track now that they are living in a world beyond the sheltered existence of college.  Although Iíve enjoyed many films containing quite a few of these actors, I havenít always enjoyed every ounce of their work.  I have never really been a fan of Meg Tilly, but this movie made me see her acting in a different light.  Her role as the girlfriend of Alex, an often-times disconnected younger woman who finds hope and happiness with Alexís friends is a perfect match. 

            The storyline of The Big Chill is strong, and one that is easy to relate to as an adult.  Who doesn't wonder if their lives have gone in different directions than we originally intended? Who doesn't see the irony in choices we have made throughout our lives? The camaraderie among the friends in this group is believeable and allows us to reminisce about the friends we had in high school and college. The script is full of lines you just love to quote, such as what Michael says about wakes: "Amazing tradition. They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can't come." You find yourself laughing and crying along with the characters.

            The soundtrack of The Big Chill - Tracks of My Tears,Ain't Too Proud To Beg, Whiter Shade of Pale, to name a few - will have you singing along with the movie!  Most of the tracks are Motown and I donít know many people from my generation who canít appreciate a soundtrack of this caliber.  The way the songs are interspersed in the movie gives added meaning to the scene without overstating the obvious.

            Having recently viewed The Big Chill 15th Anniversary DVD, I can honestly state that I love this movie even more than before.  The DVD contains a Retrospective Documentary in which members of the production crew and cast discuss the movie and its creation.  As we listen to writer, director and producer Lawrence Kasden discuss the reasons behind the creation of this film, we realize that this was a personal labor of love for him.  Co-writer Barbara Benedek impresses upon the viewer the fact that a great deal of preparation went into just the creation of the script.  Each member of the cast discusses the roles they read and were chosen for.  I found it funny that all of the women had tried out for the role of Meg, but Iím glad that Kasdan cast them in the different roles that he believed they were made for.  As far as Iím concerned, he was absolutely correct in his decision. 

            The documentary as a whole gives viewers a better insight into the creation of the film.  For instance, I didnít know that Kasdan had made the cast members live in a condo complex together so as to bring about the camaraderie that is so prevalent throughout the movie.  The fact that these actors had spent so much time together off-set made their acting on-set even more believable.  I enjoyed learning about the music selections and how they were placed in the movie after all of the filming had taken place.  The filming of the kitchen dance scene was most interesting to me and I was glad that the actors and director had chosen to elaborate on that.  I always felt like the actors had so much fun in the movie and my suspicions were confirmed through this documentary as I watched the actors reminiscing on the creation of The Big Chill with smiles on their faces.

            I was surprised to learn that flashback scenes were actually filmed but cut from the movie.  I had always known that Kevin Costner was originally slated to play the role of Alex and that it is his body being dressed in the funeral suit at the beginning of the film.  However, I had never known that there was more of his work that ended up on the cutting room floor than just his lying in a coffin.  Apparently all of the flashback scenes, as well as some scenes taking place just prior to the funeral, were cut Ė the flashback scenes, because it was felt that they just added an element of confusion to the movie and the others due to time constraints.

            When I noticed that there were deleted scenes, I was thrilled.  Maybe now, I would get to see the flashback scenes of the cast (minus Meg Tilly) dressed in 60ís garb interacting with one another.  However, the only scenes included on the DVD were those that took place just before the funeral or just after.  The scenes I really wanted to see remain a mystery.

            But I canít complain too much.  The Big Chill will always be one of my favorite films.  Itís a movie whose meaning will become ever more special to me as time goes by.


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