Baby boomers ecstatically gobbled up Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill as a healing, Utopian modus vivendi. The title the threat of mortality but Kasdan’s “chill” is the sentimental re-discovery of friendship. Because the movie’s stacked in its favor, ignoring death and avoiding the 60s politics bringing the friends together in the first place, there’ve been charges of phoniness, especially from what’s left of the Chicago Seven crowd. But the movie’s not for them: it isn’t castigating the principals about easing up on idealism, it doesn’t condemn reworked values and absorption of consumerism. Romanticized compassion is what The Big Chill advertises—pitching “I’m okay and you’re okay.” The script’s so pregnant with “love” it’s a pop psalmody of shvoogie-boogie anthems such as “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” “Second That Emotion,” “Wait Til the Midnight Hour,” and Spencer Davis’ “Gimme Some Lovin.” It’s a movie admitting we haven’t but mildly curbed our drug cravings, cajoling us to do comfy things for one another, like drop illegal stock tips, dispense joggers, provide babymaking services. Kevin Kline and Glenn Close, as the only marrieds within the circle, start off a little shaky: Kline lacks depth to pull off a teary eulogy and he’s got too much choreographic bounce, left over from The Pirates of Penzance (given a nod when charging off to battle an intruder in the attic) and Close—well, she’s almost premonitory in her Bloomingdale frizz. However, they’re icons of egalitarianism, with priorities and fashionable commitments set. Their “sharing” proved too much for some, but, in a limited way, it works as leftover from the love-in 60s. It also works because sex functions as antidote for death: who hasn’t experienced sudden if not guilty horniness during grief? Mary Kay Place is refreshing as a lawyer unapologetic about calling her clients scum and who, unattached, becomes communal property of the group. Representing the middle-aged unmarrieds without the vicissitudes sprung from Women’s Lib, she’s too huggably sane to feel pity for. William Hurt, the Vietnam vet hiding his stash in his beatup Porsche, looks realistically hammered—he’s junked-up Stanislavsky. Tom Berenger is super-personable when we see him on a plane getting loaded on Smirnoff and gazing at his own picture on the cover of US. His amiable qualities proceed to get stronger—his boyishness is magnetic. Jeff Goldblum’s the token minority and almost against the grain: he’s too tall, skinny, Jewish slinky. He reminds us of Barbra—one minute an ugly, the next a classic beauty. He delivers, though, an expert clown performance as a caveat about the downfall of journalism. JoBeth Williams has the sour role of premature matron dreaming of writing short stories and thank God we’re given no samples. She got the hubbie she wanted but she comes to the funeral prepared to dump him and snare old flame Berenger. No goody two shoes—she drinks, smokes pot, fornicates like the rest—but there’s something naggingly drippy about her. (Maybe because when looking back at our own old gang, we’ve always had one prig as reluctant liberal.) Kasdan doesn’t harangue about how our lives didn’t work out as we thought they might, or lecture how promises and intentions get discarded by time, distance, incapacitating inertia. His glossy reconciler did for old Ma Bell and those long-disappeared weekend excursion fares what E.T. did for Kleenex and Reese’s Pieces.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2000 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.