REVIEW: St. Elmo’s Fire [1985]

“The only illusion that’s worth it”

I think Joel Schumacher gets a bad rap. Sure Batman & Robin is possibly the worst movie ever made, and it did kill a multi-million dollar franchise, but is that truly all we think about on the mention of his name? I myself will admit to keeping a stigma of hack whenever Schumacher is talked about, however, along with some decent films of late, his track record in the 80’s was full of pure, nostalgic gems. I finally got the opportunity to check out one of my mother’s favorite films, St. Elmo’s Fire. Made at the height of Brat Pack fame, this film really gets the angst of college graduation and the life of responsibility and work that waits in the future right. While not as quotable or memorable as say The Breakfast Club, Schumacher still is able to take a moment in the youth of society and make something meaningful out of it. Maybe I can relate to it having just graduated from college two years ago, but I think that it would be relevant later on as well. Even if not, it is an accomplishment to last over twenty years and still be relatable to someone in that same position in the present day.

So the film is chock full of stereotypes and clichés, does that make it not true? We have our striver for fame and notoriety at the expense of his ideals, the girlfriend who wants to make a career before settling down as a stay at home mother, the troubled artist who can’t leave school behind for a real life, the self-obsessed flirt who would rather self-destruct than ruin the façade she has worked so hard to build, the love-struck indecisive one stalking a past love and changing himself to try and win her over, and the confused souls not quite sure what they want to do with their new independence. We have the drug use, the sleeping around, the comradery, and the heartbreak. Through it all, though, you can really buy into it and see moments in your own life that mirror the events onscreen almost perfectly. I think a lot of this has to do with the times and the ability to use actors that are actually the age of the characters they are playing. This is a film about 23 year olds trying to find themselves, and the authenticity of having people that age, going through those things in their real lives, helps the performances to be truthful. Nowadays this would have been changed to a post-high school story with the 18 year olds played by actors 25 or older. It’s the vulnerability and the childlike appearance that makes you buy into the story and want to follow it to the end to see if the friendships can remain intact.

The star-filled cast does a great job throughout, and a film like this makes you wonder where these guys have gone. An actress like Ally Sheedy, who had the talent and the looks, pretty much fell off the map once the 80’s came to a close. It is her and Andrew McCarthy that really carry the film. He is another that disappeared after Weekend at Bernie’s. It is always nice to see this troupe of acting talent and what they were capable of in their prime. Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, and Judd Nelson are all pitch-perfect in their roles along with Mare Winningham playing the friend that is so totally different from everyone else in the group, yet believable because we all have a friend like that. The only weak spot, in my opinion, is Rob Lowe who at many times seems a bit out of his element as the drunk, party guy cracking jokes and getting into trouble. I don’t discount his performances totally, though, because when he has moments of clarity, like when he talks Moore down after her total collapse, he is really excellent.

Everyone goes through a moment of time in his/her life like the characters onscreen in St. Elmo’s Fire. Schumacher should be given credit for giving us a poignant study into the lives of those souls on the cusp of a new chapter in life and the decisions that need to be made to continue forward without regrets for what is left behind. The dialogue is realistic and it all ends in a conclusion that makes sense in the scheme of the character’s evolutions. Your friends will always be there for you, through thick and thin, however, as you grow older, the roles each play in your life changes. Getting older doesn’t mean severing ties to the past, but instead a restructuring of it to keep you strong and moving towards the future.

St. Elmo’s Fire 8/10 | ★ ★ ★


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