The Big Chill (1983)
Having made a name for himself as the penner of the second and third Star Wars movie and Raiders of the Lost Ark, followed by his directorial debut with the steaming noir Body Heat, Lawrence Kasdan had gained the artistic freedom to make his most personal film to date – and possibly of his career. After being members of the 1960s counterculture as college students, a group of 30-somethings get together in connection with the death and funeral of their friend Alex, who has recently committed suicide. Reunited, they contemplate how far from their original views their current lives as young adults of the 1980s are.
Kasdan is perhaps at his most assured in this wonderful snapshot of a movie. His direction is loose and ambitious at the same time, and he lets his well-picked ensemble of fairly unknown but highly talented young theatre actors spar against each other and dissect their characters for him. Not all of Kasdan's philosophical observations are equally challenging or on the button, but then again, that is arguably part of the point he's making: These guys have a tragicomic aspect to them, seeing as they are so aware of the discrepancy between who they wanted to become and what they have turned out as. Every generation that grow up will arguably experience this to some degree. But none more so than this one, claims Kasdan, adding abundances of funny little comments, clashes and situations on the abyss between the value system of their youth and the grown-up world they now are not only living in, but creating as they go along. The Big Chill offers no conclusions, but captures a zeitgeist and a generation in a profound, nuanced manner.
The humour is often underplayed and the truths that are uncovered slight, sometimes veiled. But this is also what gives The Big Chill its authenticity. There is a lot of warmth infusing an otherwise often detached, disillusioned mood. And although the characters constantly clash and have trouble understanding each other, they also have a deep love and care for each other, something that is wonderfully communicated by the actors in an understated way. They make the most of the delightful script written by Kasdan and his co-writer Barbara Benedek – a script that is full of authentic dialogue and pleasantly absurd situations.
There are delightful, charismatic performances from the entire cast, but particularly Kevin Kline, Glenn Close and Jeff Goldblum, the wonderful, passively seductive Meg Tilly, and an introspective, enigmatic William Hurt, who dance their way through Kasdan's summary of a bygone time and its unfulfilled ambitions.