DAILY FILM DOSE: A Daily Film Appreciation and Review Blog: St. Elmo's Fire

Sunday 26 July 2009

St. Elmo's Fire

St. Elmo's Fire (1985) dir. Joel Schumacher
Starring: Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Andrew McCarthy, Mare Winningham


“St. Elmo’s Fire” was successful, a film from which the term ‘Brat Pack’ term was coined. In addition to the familiar cast of young actors hopping in and out of each other movies, the film also became Joel Schmucher’s first hit, and the beginning of a career of big budgeted, successful but underwhelming movies.

“St Elmo’s Fire” is so underwhelming, it’s almost unwatchable. The story of six college grads searching for their place in the world and reconciling their increasingly divergent lifestyles in a world of 1980's decadence.

Most of the characters are unequivocally written to be dislikeable. I imagine this was the pitch – to showcase these young actors without the John Hughes softening of ‘The Breakfast Club’ and with real issues facing young people. Unfortunately writers Schumacher and Carl Kurlander choose to dramatize his characters and scenes with base emotions, base relationships with less complexity than those Hughes films.

There's Alec (Judd Nelson) a Republican aide whose own immoral and idiotic internal logic has convinced himself that if he marries his girlfriend Leslie (Ally Sheedy) it will stop him from cheating with other women. There's Kevin (Andrew McCarthy) the writer whom everyone is convinced is gay because he actually respects women and whose pining after Leslie will eventually cause a rift in his best friendship with Alec. Rob Lowe is Billy a trainwreck self-destructive drunk who walks around everywhere with a saxophone, who is also married with a child whom he never sees. Demi Moore is Jules, a party girl, who desires to use her good looks to sleep her way to the top. Mare Winningham is the rich girl wallflower virgin Wendy who actually is in love with the big douche and deadbeat dad Billy. And then there's Kirby (Emilio Estevez) the law student who lasers in an older woman with headlong love-smitten abandonment.

Making someone a coke abuser, a drunk driver or an adulterer is not enough to complicate their character if their scenes are written and acted with blockhead subtly. In virtually every scene the internal logic of interaction of the characters is headshaking. Emilio Estevez’s entire existence in the film is based on his love-at-first-sight pursuit of a woman he hasn’t seen in 4 years since high school, and despite the fact she has not given him even a wink of acknowledgement in return for his irrational desire.

The only thing Schumacher gets right is the attitude of 1980's Reaganomics which trickled down into social behaviour - and era of irresponsible self-indulgence. Films like "Wall Street", "Bright Lights, Big City" captured this, but "St. Elmo's Fire" relies so heavily on embellished character and literary stereotypes everyone, including the nice characters, ring false. The only reason this film hasn't faded into obscurity is David Foster's pop-magnificent score, which is dates the film in a good way.

"St. Elmo's Fire" is available on Blu-Ray from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment


Andrew D. Wells said...

"...the beginning of a career of big budgeted, successful but underwhelming movies." Boy, you said it, Alan.

T.J. Hawke said...

The 80's really sucked for the most part in terms of movies (and music for that matter) and this is the film that immediately comes to mind when I think how bad the films sucked. (For the record, the song "Don't STop Believen" by Journey is what comes to my mind when I think about how bad the music was)