St. Elmo's Fire
Reviewed by Tom Panarese
Rating: 5 Beans
You know, driven by a car accident and slowed down to see if you could get a really good look at the carnage, whether it be the passengers crying into each other’s arms or a car suspended on a median wall? And you know you should look away because not only is it rude to stare at other people’s misery, but you’re also holding up traffic?
Well, such is “St. Elmo’s Fire.”
I should start off by clarifying that I don’t hate this movie one bit. In fact, I love this movie BECAUSE it is a seven-car pile-up that ties up traffic on the Key Bridge at rush hour.
With that said, I’ll get to the meat and potatoes here. “St. Elmo’s Fire” is considered the ultimate “brat pack” movie, probably because it stars most of that group of actors and actresses, the only ones absent being Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall. The plot centers on seven Georgetown graduates trying to cope with life after college as they burn out in the real world, circa 1985. Each of them has his or her share of problems. Billy (Rob Lowe) is a husband and father, but can’t hold a steady job and parties like he’s still in college. Jules (Demi Moore) is a coked-up party girl nearing her credit limit. Kirby (Emilio Estevez) is a law student who becomes obsessed with doctor Dale Beaverman (Andie MacDowell). Kevin (Andrew McCarthy) is also lovelorn, but he’s a brooding writer obsessed with Leslie (Ally Sheedy), who is living with his best friend Alec (Judd Nelson). Alec is the group’s outspoken leader and he’s been screwing around on Leslie. So that’s ... oh wait, that’s only six. Who am I forgetting? Oh yeah, Wendy (Mare Winningham). She’s in love with Billy and she’s a virgin. You can kind of see where that one’s going.
And that’s pretty much the only purpose Wendy serves anyway, except for being a foil to all her hedonistic friends. This movie is about bottoming out, or as Jules put it, “being so tired at 22.” And it tries to teach a lesson in karma or something. Alec’s screwing around gets back to Leslie and she sleeps with Kevin. Jules loses everything--her job, her possessions--and locks herself in her apartment while outside, Alec tries to drop Kevin off her fire escape. Who gets her out of the jam? Billy, of course, because he’s already bottomed out what with losing his job (again), his wife, and his kid. Kirby and Leslie help, but with them, it’s a guilt by association thing.
If the words “written and directed by Joel Schumacher” cause you to break out in hives, I wouldn’t recommend this movie just yet ... see “The Lost Boys” or “D.C. Cab.” But if you want to see 1985 at its cheesiest, please watch this movie. It’s overacted, over-written, over-directed, and even over-scored (David Foster’s musak has become standard for many a dentist’s office). But that’s the beauty of it. Judd Nelson is at his nostril-flaring best, Ally Sheedy pouts like nobody else, Demi Moore ... well, I’ll set a precedent and not say anything snarky about Demi Moore ..., and Andrew McCarthy uses the film to perfect his trademark deer-in-the-headlights stare. Oh, and then there’s Rob Lowe who yes, has redeemed himself on “The West Wing,” but he’s just so darned pretty in this movie.
It’s great to watch this one in the context of history. Much like Brandon Lee’s death added to the mystery of “The Crow,” knowing that most of the brat-packers would gradually fade into obscurity after this flick (with the exceptions of probably Demi Moore and Emilio Estevez) adds to the carnage. Just like that 7-car pile up on the bridge. You hear someone died in it and think, “Wow, and I was actually a witness.” It’s hard to look away from “St. Elmo’s Fire,” mostly because the cinematography is gorgeous, but also because in so very few movies are the excesses of a young generation of actors who represent an entire decade of excess laid out before you.
And sincerely, no less.
But after everything’s towed away and you move on, just remember the movie’s best line, courtesy of Kirby: “Fluff and fold, buddy. Soon as I make it really big, I'm going fluff and fold.”
Fluff and fold? Perfect metaphor.
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