St. Elmo's Fire

Reviewed By Jack Sommersby
Posted 10/21/20 16:37:06

"A Fine 'Brat Pack' Picture"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Underrated and unfairly dismissed.

I for one absolutely despised John Hughes's meretricious high-school comedy/drama The Breakfast Club that I found schematic to the nth degree and populated by boring, easy-to-read stereotypes. In his specious attempt to "tell us something" about the trials and tribulations teenagers go through, Hughes, whose Sixteen Candles from the year before had some semblances of freshness, instead of genuine honesty, trotted out a tired array of familiarities and cliched characters (the jock, the nerd, the introvert, the rebel, the popular rich girl) with italics attached to them and convenient dramatic arcs charting their paths. The movie was less an organically sound motion picture than a didactic mess of superficiality - you never for a second honestly bought into what Hughes was simplistically pushing. So it's quite surprising the universal critical venom heaped upon Joel Schumacher's St. Elmo's Fire, which I found a lot more perceptive and involving. Rather than a college movie it's an after-college movie, one that tracks a series of characters as they find life after graduation from Washington D.C.'s Georgetown University not as easy and rewarding as they expected - after four years of secular comforts of dorm rooms and academic structure they've been put into the real world, and they're simply not prepared for the weirdnesses that most everyday citizens have to contend with on a regular basis.

There's Rob Lowe's Billy Hicks, a quintessential irresponsible womanizer who can't hold even a menial job despite having a wife and baby daughter at home who need him; he just wants to play his saxophone at nightclub gigs and hang out with his friends. Mare Winningham's Wendy Beamish is from a wealthy family but chooses to eke out a living as a social worker knowing perfectly well her job is essentially futile. Demi Moore's financially irresponsible Jules has landed a position in high finance but spends her salary as fast as it comes in and has racked up thousands in credit-card debt. Judd Nelson's and Ally Sheedy's Alec Newberry and Leslie Hunter, one a political-campaign worker, the other a designer, are living together with the latter hesitant towards marriage and the former cheating on her. Emilio Estevez's Kirby Keger still doesn't know what he wants to do as a career and has found himself relentlessly obsessing over a lady emergency-room physician whom he went to a single movie with during college. And rounding out the lot is Andrew McCarthy's Kevin Dolenz, a newspaper obituary writer with aspirations to pen the ultimate column on the meaning of life and harbors romantic feelings towards Leslie, which is inconvenient being that Alex is his best friend. By the same token, the uncouth Billy is forever infatuated with the mousy Wendy and her virginity because he finds her the kind of "wholesome" woman he knows he can't possibly keep. With the exception of Kirby, who unnervingly comes across as a stalker (don't blame Estevez: he's merely making due with what he's been handed, which just isn't believable), the rest are interesting three-dimensional human beings who ring true more often than not.

You can sense they were brought up in privileged households but with parents who had very little in the way of worldly advice to impart onto them - in fact, with the exception of Wendy, there are no parental figures to be found. These recent graduates think their friendship alone can steer them on the right course, but the trouble is their friends are as lost as they are - there's no captain at the helm to steer them on a trouble-free course; and since as kids they were shielded, bordering on insulated, from harsh realities, they're increasingly vulnerable to unpredictability. (This just wasn't included in the Georgetown curriculum.) Co-writer and director Joel Schumacher, with the help of ace cinematographer Stephen H. Burum, gives St. Elmo's Fire visual vitality and some occasional widescreen snap; and the dialogue he's come up with is mostly believable verbiage that isn't stilted as what came out of the actors' mouths in "The Breakfast Club" that underlined everything twice. All the performers are first-rate, with McCarthy particularly praiseworthy - he cannily underplays and suggests a resoursefulness a leading role in the future might afford him. Granted, the movie isn't exactly penetrating, with the corners too rounded off to give off much in the way of resonance, but when in a final scene where this inseparable group decides to pass up an evening at a local drinking hole they used to frequent as students because they have professional commitments the next day (not to mention, there are some current students seated at their once-regular table), you feel they've finally started to come around. It's not so much that the party is over, but that no party was ever meant to last forever. These babes-in-the-woods haven't been able to see the forest from the trees. And while this is far from revelatory, this technically-accomplished film takes some interesting routes in getting there.

A decent Blu-Ray release for those who're interested.

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