THE BIG CHILL --- 1983 --- (in my group of 51 to 100 favorite films)
Death! It is an event that usually causes you to stop and think about what everything means, what we're all here for. It is also the backbone of many a film. "The Big Chill" is a metaphor not only for death but the chilling effect it has on others.
The brilliant opening scene had Kevin Kline giving his 4 year old son a bath. The youngster is cute, singing the lyrics to a popular 1960's song not quite right. The phone rings. Kline and his son continue with the bath. The phone rings again. Still Kline continues to wash and interact with his young son. In the background Glenn Close walks over to the phone. She answers it and talks for a few seconds. The camera cuts to Kline who looks up. We see Close standing, looking down at him, no expression at all on her face as a tear rolls down her cheek. The song "I Heard It through the Grapevine" comes up on the soundtrack and the opening credits start. We know now what the phone call was about.
From these unspoken moments the background is set for this extraordinary movie. Between shots of a body being prepared for the funeral, all the members of the university group the deceased belonged to are shown in wordless reaction to the news. Soon they join together to look at the life of their friend as well as their own. The first bit of real dialogue occurs almost 10 minutes into the film, yet we now know all about the characters. How? Wordless reaction shots.
Boy, this movie sure sounds depressing. Well, no. It is extraordinarily alive, vigorous and insightful. And the music! The classic songs elevate a scene, piling on emotion to wonderful moments. This combined with the brilliant ensemble acting temper the sadness of the occasion with joy of life and companionship.
In the previous movies I have written about, music tends to be a major element. Not only is "The Big Chill" NOT an exception, it is a prime example of music BEING a major character in the film! Here are some of the songs played during the film. Not only are they songs that would be relished by the characters in the film, but each song's lyrics comment on the scene it is used in:
"I Heard It Through the Grapevine" --- Marvin Gaye
"Good Lov'n" --- The Rascals
"Joy to the World" --- Three Dog Night
"You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman" --- Aretha Franklin
"I Second that Emotion" --- The Miracles
"Tell Him" --- The Exciters
I feel director Lawrence Kasdan perfectly orchestrates this group of saddened friends and exposes us to each of their successful or less than successful lives. I found myself so involved with these people, I felt like I was one of the characters in the film. Certainly a major achievement in my book.
Tom Berenger --- Sam Weber
Glenn Close --- Sarah Cooper
Jeff Goldblum --- Michael Gold
William Hurt --- Nick Carlton
Kevin Kline --- Harold Cooper
Mary Kay Place --- Meg Jones
Meg Tilly --- Chloe
JoBeth Williams --- Karen Bowens
Don Galloway --- Richard Bowens
Charles Kuenneth MPHS 66