A surprising Oscar’s BEST PICTURE nominee, writer/director Lawrence Kasdan’s sophomore feature THE BIG CHILL focuses on a weekend reunion of seven 30-something alumni of the University of Michigan, 15 years after leaving the ivory tower, but what convenes them together is anything but jovial, their friend Alex’s shocking suicide.
The overhanging question shrouds the cohort of eight, joined by Chloe, Alex’s much younger girlfriend, is what is the reason behind Alex’s given up on his life, but like Alex himself, whom we are not privileged to see in his physical form (Kevin Costner is cast as Alex but all his scenes with his facial appearance are left in the editing room), it is elusive and open-ended, it might be just as well a spur-of-the-moment decision out of depression. In lieu of solving the mystery, Kasdan takes in his stride to examine the sophisticated interrelations among our subjects, who begin to introspect their own feelings in the aftermath through gingerly disposed small talks and congenial interactions infrequently salted with discord and liaisons.
Pivoted around a ballast of camaraderie, nothing egregiously dark will emerge to tickle a cynical mind, Sarah (a radiant and Oscar-nominated Glenn Close in the mode of a good wife/mother which in retrospect appears at a premium in her tracking record) admits that she had an affair with Alex, which unfortunately dampens their friendship, before marrying Harold (Kevin Kline, full of panache), the ultimate version of an understanding and competent husband, who has no qualms at the bidding of her wife to become an inseminator of Meg (Mary Kay Place, embodies the career woman stereotype with considerable pizzazz and tizzy), who adopts a modern view of independence and plans to become a single mother of her own accord when the biological clock starts ticking.
As per the likability quotient of their characters, in the descending order, the next-in-line is Karen (JoBeth Williams, a fine performance), a housewife forgoes her writing dreams to raise her children and gets bored with her stagnant marriage, the reunion tantalizingly rekindles her romance with her old admirer Sam (Tom Berenger, emits a refreshing air of forthright amiability and attractive unassumingness before being typecast in the villain compartment, for keeps), a well-known TV actor in L.A., divorced but sagacious enough not to wreck a family just for the old time’s sake (after a mutually desired consummation, of course). Then the only new blood, Chloe (a lissom Meg Tilly channeling a less convincing orbit wobbling between a barmy nymphet and a post-traumatic soul), takes a liking to Nick (William Hurt, tangibly tackling the most complex character here with searing precision), a Porsche-riding, pill-popping Vietnam veteran who has no place called home and stigmatized by impotence, whose defeatist outlook cuts through the sweeping but bland melancholia like a scalpel, before receding to its residing harbor in the well-intentioned but anodyne ending. Finally, Michael (a jaunty Jeff Goldblum) is a People Magazine’s writer who seeks both a new career opportunity and some carnal dalliance, falls between those two stools at length, nevertheless his can-do spirit is always in full swing to bring exuberance.
A cracking ensemble piece punctuated by a potpourri of hit parade ear-worms, THE BIG CHILL enthralls viewers with its fabricated spontaneity, palpable warmth and liberating candor, yet as a matter of fact, there is a discerning aftertaste apropos of the elephant-in-the-room: “Who is this enigmatic, gone but not forgotten Alex and what drives him to his undoing?”, after all, is it a tactful circumvention as an enigma is better left in lacunae or a flagrant glossing-over in favor of something less perturbing? The jury is out, seemly.
referential point: Kasdan’s BODY HEAT (1981, 7.9/10)