Thursday, November 26, 2009
A movie that makes me want to hang out with friends--a rare phenomenon
St. Elmo's Fire is that movie.
In the same breath, I would also like to point out that I never cared for The Breakfast Club, a film released in the same year as St. Elmo's Fire that, like St. Elmo's Fire, also featured prominent members of the "brat pack," a group of up-and-coming actors from the eighties. I wrote a review for The Breakfast Club several month ago, with the hope of re-reviewing it after I re-watch it with my English class. (The Breakfast Club was used as the cinematic companion piece to The Catcher in the Rye.) Well, my English class certainly loved it.
The Breakfast Club and St. Elmo's Fire are very different, despite the fact that they are both prominent "brat pack" movies and share several actors. The former is about high school and the latter is about post-college life. Because of their general classification, they are often compared to each other. The Breakfast Club usually wins the comparison battle.
If you would like to convince me that The Breakfast Club is indeed the greatest high school movie ever made, please feel free. For the time being, I would like to convince you that St. Elmo's Fire is the greatest movie about dumb people ever made.
St. Elmo's Fire is about a group of recent college graduates from Georgetown University. They struggle to come to terms with adult obstacles. Since the writers of this film naturally wondered why these drastically different people would ever be friends, they gave the audience the excuse that the characters really don't remember who met who first and why the hell they are even friends. It is just a fact that we have to accept. Director Joel Schumacher establishes this sense of warmth and trust between the characters that makes their friendships strangely believable.
The seven friends meet at St. Elmo's Bar & Restaurant and discuss their difficult lives. They ponder the meaning of life while they curiously venture into the world that would become their lives.
Alec (Judd Nelson) and Leslie (Ally Sheedy) are the golden couple of the group. Although he is a Democrat, Alec finds a higher-paying job with a Republican senator. Alec hopes that marrying Leslie would finally terminate his unfaithfulness. Leslie doesn't know about Alec's unfaithfulness, but she is still hesitant towards the idea of marriage.
Alec's best friend, Kevin (Andrew McCarthy), is an aspiring journalist without a byline. He's sensitive, yet pessimistic about love. Kevin is secretly in love with Leslie, but holds back his knowledge about Alec's unfaithfulness.
Kevin is roommates with Kirby (Emilio Estevez), who is attending law school. But he's willing to quit law school to become a doctor to impress Dale (Andie MacDowell), an older woman who he has been smitten with since his freshmen year at Georgetown. Kirby forms an almost stalkerish attachment to Dale and surprisingly, Dale doesn't seem to be scared.
Jules (Demi Moore) is the party girl of the group. She has a drug problem and her monthly paychecks aren't enough to fuel her high maintenance lifestyle.
Billy (Rob Lowe) is the frat boy of the group. He has a wife and baby, but he can't keep a job to support them. He plays the saxophone well, but it is a talent he doesn't seriously pursue. He is often irresponsible and unfaithful to his wife.
But Wendy (Mare Winningham), the virgin of the group, has faith in Billy. Wendy comes from a well-to-do family who is eager to see quit her social services job and get married to a good husband. Unfortunately for her family, Wendy has a crush on Billy. In return, Billy has an almost creepy interest in Wendy's virginity.
How do these people know each other? Who cares?
None of these characters are very smart people. But the point is, most young people are not smart. They can cheat on their girlfriends, hoping that marriage would solve all their problems. They can change their political party affiliation to get a higher-paying job. They can fall in love with their best friend's girlfriend. They can be compulsive liars and have drug problems. They can even stalk the woman they claim to love. They can even infatuate over a guy who probably isn't worth it. Or have a weird obsessive interest over their friend's virginity.
What do I know about what people can do and feel?
I do know that St. Elmo's Fire is a wonderfully entertaining movie. It is not a movie that captures realistic situations, but it is a movie that captures realistic emotions. When Kirby finally gets his romantic moment with Dale, I feel for his triumph. Or when Kevin confesses his love to Leslie. Or even in the dramatic scene where Leslie confesses to Alec why she refuses to marry him. I feel for these characters, no matter how inane they are.
I wasn't alive in the eighties, but St. Elmo's Fire epitomized what I knew about the eighties: horrible fashion, obnoxious hair, cheesy music (and what was up with Lowe's dangling earring?). But it was a decade that defined youth as we know it. Although some may credit the fifties for inventing the teenager, MTV, John Hughes, and the brat pack revolutionized what it meant to be a teenager. St. Elmo's Fire explores the aftermath of youth. No one can be angsty forever, yet they just want to hang on.