Criterion: The Big Chill
THE BIG CHILL, LAWRENCE KASDAN, 1983
I first saw The Big Chill ages ago, when I was much younger and had a different perception of the world. I thought it was okay, recognizing that it was an above average film for the time, but wasn’t something I could relate to. At my age now, I should be able to relate to the material more, being in my early middle ages and having reunited with many old friends over the last several years. Sometimes a Criterion release will change my mind about a film, and I’m always willing to go in with an open mind.
My perception may have changed, but so has my appreciation for good cinema. I’ve seen at least a thousand films since that first viewing, and having seen so many good ensemble movies, this one felt lackluster by comparison. I actually liked it far less than the first time, when I was a teenager, and that is partly because I have experienced other, better films, but also because I have lived enough to have an understanding of genuine nostalgia and emotion.
In one of the special features, someone mentioned that one of the producers said “I had no idea this was a comedy.” I actually felt the same way, and didn’t realize that it was intended to be a comedy until hearing this from the filmmakers. There was not a funny note. Sure, there were some playful moments, and the way they incorporated the big dance scene was fun. My guess is they intended Meg Tilly and Jeff Goldblum to be comedic relief, but they completely fell flat.
They also try too hard to make things seem important. The emotional character moments are not earned and don’t seem genuine. Sure, it is difficult to develop such a large ensemble where there’s not a leading man, but it has been done before. From the same era, there’s The Breakfast Club and Hannah and Her Sisters. More recently, there’s The World’s End, which is a real reunion comedy with emotional moments. The big difference between The Big Chill and these other films is that Chill goes out of it’s way to try to create profound, insightful character moments, yet with completely undeveloped characters. These other films develop the characters around the story and let the emotional moments come from there.
What is most interesting about this project is that the large ensemble became pretty well known, and most of them are actively working today. Some are famous, and most are now proven, experienced, quality actors. You can tell that they were just beginning to develop their chops, and maybe with better material and direction, they could have pulled it off. The potential was there, which makes it all the more disappointing to revisit and witness its failure.
Movie Rating: 3/10
Lawrence Kasdan Interview: I’m not sure what it was, but Kasdan does not come off as very bright in this interview. Maybe it is his speaking cadence. He talks about working within the Hollywood system to create good movies, and seems a bit arrogant by talking up his work, which to me has been mostly mediocre. He talks about some films that inspired him, and compares this one to Rules of the Game. I hope he wasn’t serious.
1998 Documentary: This also didn’t work for me, and I think I might have enjoyed it more if I liked the movie. Most of it was about people talking about their characters, the production, with a lot of clips. I actually didn’t finish this one.
TIFF Reunion Panel 2013: This was better, but that’s because the actors have now become successful, and it is interesting hearing them recall their experiences and the wonderful times they had.
Deleted Scenes: Pass. If they weren’t good enough to make the movie, then I’d rather not see them.
Criterion Rating: 4/10