St. Elmo’s Fire, released in 1985, is one of the defining movies of the 1980s brat pack genre. (Along with ‘The Breakfast Club’, ‘Sixteen Candles’ and ‘Pretty In Pink’). Its major stars, slick editing and production and its soundtrack made it a financial (although not a critical) success.
This clasic mid-80’s coming-of-age film revolves around a group of friends that have just graduated from Georgetown University and their adjustment to their post-university lives, the quarter-life crisis, and the responsibilities of encroaching adulthood.
IN the realm of films about close-knit bands of school friends, “St. Elmo’s Fire” falls midway between “The Big Chill” and “The Breakfast Club.” Its characters are old enough to enjoy the first flushes of prosperity, but still sufficiently youthful to keep their self-absorption intact. But soon enough, they will be forced to give up their late-night carousing at a favorite bar and move on to more responsible lives. In the film’s terms, which are distinctly limited, this will mean finding a more sedate hangout and learning to go there for brunch.
“St. Elmo’s Fire,” which opens today at the Ziegfeld, has seven attention-getting young stars and a director, Joel Schumacher, whose hardest job is apportioning them equal time. When the story gets in the way of this, it is simply jettisoned; indeed, the film is edited so skittishly that the actors are barely able to complete their sentences, let alone their thoughts. That’s probably just as well. “St. Elmo’s Fire” is most appealing when it simply gives the actors a chance to flirt with the camera, and with one another. When it attempts to take seriously the problems of characters who are spoiled, affluent and unbearably smug, it becomes considerably less attractive.
The film’s persistent, slap-happy bonhomie eventually gives way to adolescent honesty, “Breakfast Club”-style: when the hubbub dies down there are tears, confessions, vows to change and promises of eternal friendship. This sort of authenticity, formulaic as it is, is far preferable to the film’s attempts to touch base with harsh reality. The film’s most embarrassing sequence brings three girlfriends, one a hopeless spendthrift, together for lunch at a soup kitchen. The spendthrift makes fun of one indigent woman and declares, “I’m going to end up a bag lady. Of course, I’ll have alligator bags.”
Another awkward episode aims for cheap satire at the expense of parents who seem no less ignoble or materialistic than their children. And then there’s the young political hopeful who decides to change his political affiliation for reasons of expendiency. “Working for a Republican senator pays a lot more than working for a Democratic congressman,” he explains to his live-in girlfriend. “We could get the longer sofa. And we could get married.” It is this sort of reasoning with which the film is principally concerned.
Mr. Schumacher does a lot with the decor, which shows almost all the characters living splashily above their means, and makes strenous efforts to keep things spinning. But the film’s only real interest lies in the question of which of these actors will, by moving on to more substantial projects than this one, be able to build and sustain their careers. In the case of Rob Lowe, whose irresponsible pretty boy becomes the film’s central figure, a matinee-idol future is assured, and perhaps something more; Mr. Lowe reveals an interesting petulance in some of his less showily emotional scenes, and brings a disarming warmth to the finale. The most unusual actor in the cast is Emilio Estevez, whose very pugnaciousness is so crazily intense it lends itself to comedy.
Judd Nelson, as the character intent on that larger sofa, was the bully of “The Breakfast Club” and is no less overbearing here, though his self-importance occasionally gives way to some welcome humor. Andrew McCarthy affably inhabits the film’s most likable role, that of an aspiring writer who’s the easygoing iconoclast of the group. The women’s roles, which are less well developed in the screenplay by Mr. Schumacher and Carl Kurlander, are those of a garish extrovert (Demi Moore), a trim young professional (Ally Sheedy) and a nice-girl social worker (Mare Winningham). Miss Moore is appropriately loud, and Miss Winningham does a lot with a listless character, while Miss Sheedy manages to show a few flashes of unexpected intelligence and humor.
“St. Elmo’s Fire” is as good a film as any to put into a time capsule this year – to show what and whom young viewers want, and how eager Hollywood is to give it to them.
Good Old Friends ST. ELMO’S FIRE, directed by Joel Schumacher; written by Mr. Schumacher and Carl Kurlander; director of photography, Stephen H. Burum; edited by Richard Marks; music by David Foster; produced by Lauren Shuler; released by Columbia Pictures. At Ziegfeld, 141 West 54th Street; Coronet, Third Avenue at 59th Street, and other theaters. Running time: 108 minutes.
Written by Janet Maslin from nytimes.com
2.06GB | 1h 48mn | 1024×428 | mkv
Secondary soundtrack is a Director’s commentary.