Moviedrome Redux: The Big Chill (1983)

Nick Clement continues his assessments of cinematic gems and cult oddities.

“An entertaining look at the 80s embourgeoisement of 60s student activists steers skillfully between social satire and sentiment.” – EmpireOnline.

This is an absolutely wonderful movie, filled with warmth, compassion, sensitively drawn characters, and real life situations that cut to the core of friendship and love. Released in 1983, Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill has endured throughout the decades because, despite being almost 40 years old, it doesn’t feel dated, as the themes that are discussed and explored can’t help but always feel relevant or important.

Concerning a group of college friends who reunite after 15 years after the suicide death of one of their classmates, the star-studded cast is nearly unconscionable to contemplate in retrospect: William Hurt, Glenn Close, Tom Berenger, Jeff Goldblum, Kevin Kline, JoBeth Williams, Mary Kay Place, and Meg Tilly were all superb, creating a group dynamic that feels electric to observe. There’s an incredible sense of organic friendship all throughout the film, with everyone feeding off of one another in the ensemble, never trying to show each other up, but rather allowing for a mosaic quality to overtake the humble proceedings. This film truly was a showcase for all of the acting talent.

Kasdan’s sad, humorous, intelligent, and introspective narrative allowed for scenes to play out in a very naturalistic fashion, with that the story comprises. The film’s casual visual style also never intruded on the actors or the words, as everyone knew that the power of the material was contained in the delicate strands of the narrative. Kevin Costner’s scenes were famously deleted from the final cut; Kasdan has stated that there’s no “director’s cut” floating around with the additional footage. The prolific Michael Shamberg (Pulp Fiction, A Fish Called Wanda, Gattaca) was the film’s main producer.

Filmed on location in South Carolina, the production used the same house that was showcased in The Great Santini. A short-lived television adaptation called Hometown was attempted by CBS but was quickly cancelled. The film’s robust classic rock soundtrack includes cuts from The Rolling Stones, Credence Clear Water Revival, Three Dog Night, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, and Aretha Franklin. The Criterion Collection offers an immaculate Blu-ray with ample special features.

❉ ‘The Big Chill’ (1983) Director: Jim McBride. Cast includes Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, JoBeth Williams. Run time: 103 mins. Released 29 July 2014 by Criterion Collection with a new, restored 4K digital film transfer and alternate remastered 5.1 surround soundtrack, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio. Also available Region-free on Blu-Ray in Australia from 11 March 2020 via Via Vision Entertainment

 Nick Clement is a journalist for Variety Magazine and motion picture screenplay consultant, as well as a critic for websites We Are Cult and Back to the Movies. He wrote the introduction to the book Double Features: Big Ideas in Film, which was published by The Great Books Foundation, and is currently working on a book about the life and work of filmmaker Tony Scott. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and son.

Become a patron at Patreon!