[AMAZONPRODUCTS asin=”B00JPUUSEE”]The Big Chill centers on seven people, college friends and veterans of the activist 1960’s, who reunite for the weekend; brought together for the funeral of their friend Alex, who inexplicably committed suicide. His manner of death haunts the group’s otherwise happy memories of him. Being together also serves to remind them that none of them has lived up to the uncompromising ideals they once espoused. All saddled with adult responsibilities, the weekend is a chance to relive old memories and reestablish connections.
Harold and Sarah Cooper (Kevin Kline and Glenn Close) host the reunion in their grand, Southern, summer home. They have done well for themselves; Sarah is a doctor, and Harold owns a running shoe company. Their marriage is a happy a happy one, despite Sarah’s affair with Alex years earlier. Most of their college buddies have also done well for themselves. Meg (Mary Kay Place), a real estate attorney, is sick of dating, is tired of dating but desperately wants a baby; Sam (Tom Berenger), is the pretty star of a popular action TV series; Michael (Jeff Goldblum), a former crusading reporter for the college newspaper, now spends his time rationalizing his job at People magazine; Nick (William Hurt), is a burnt out Vietnam vet for whom drug-dealing has become more than a side job; Karen (JoBeth Williams), had once wanted to be a writer, but she’s a housewife in need of something—specifically, a long brewing relationship with Sam. If it’s ever going to happen, now’s the time.
Largely unknown actors at the time, that’s an excellent ensemble cast. Two others, outsiders who figure into the proceedings are Karen’s advertising executive husband, Richard (Don Galloway) and Chloe (Meg Tilly), Alex’s much younger girlfriend. She is less self absorbed then the others. Chloe’s fascination with Nick—a man clearly suffering from acute depression—and her comment about Alex’s suicide, “We had some good times. I haven’t met that many happy people in my life, how do they act?” seems to suggest that the younger generation she represents is well aware that bad things happen to good people; in fact, they expect it.
Over the years, critics have noted that the story doesn’t really go anywhere. While true, co-writer director wants the story to unspool right where it is. He’s taking us on a visit with old friends, but like the rest of us, the characters can’t stay in the past. At the end of the weekend they have to go back to the families, jobs, and other obligations that await them. One of the things that makes the time with Harold, Sarah and friends so enjoyable is the dialogue. Some of the best exchanges occur when one character will spout what they believe to be real wisdom, someone else will pause a beat before saying with a smirk, “That is such a crock of shit, I can’t believe it.”
The theme of college friends facing middle-age, raising kids, and paying mortgages resonates with most people of a certain age, no matter the decade. Like a lot of us, one gets the sense that Kasdan’s characters are more confused in their thirties, than they ever were in college. I know I felt that way some days! The film itself is steeped in the Ronald Reagan 1980’s when considering the clothes, cars, and look. However, the emotional baggage of the characters belongs in any decade.
Criterion has done a very nice job restoring The Big Chill in the 4K digital format, preserving the original look of the film stock without pumping up the grain or removing it. Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, this is a warm 1080p transfer that makes for a cinematic look with realistic colors, strong detail, and a level of clarity that gives the film a welcome sense of depth.
The Big Chill set the standard for the consumer movie soundtrack, and it’s the music that really shows off the differences in this upgrade, whether you’re listening to it in uncompressed mono or to the 5.1 surround DTS-HD Master Audio option. There is a lot of Motown on tap—Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, The Miracles, etc—and they all sound great; this is key, because the music is just as important as anything that’s said in The Big Chill. The dialogue is clear and never disappears below the music.
English subtitles are available.
- Success in the System (HD, 12:19) Recorded for Criterion in 2014, Lawrence Kasdan discusses the issues with creating a ‘personal’ work within the Hollywood system and his work as screenwriter/director and the collaborative process. Recorded for Criterion in 2014.
- Cast Reunion at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival (HD, 43:48) Co-writer/Director Lawrence Kasdan, and actors Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, and JoBeth Williams commemorate the 30th anniversary. Variety’s Scott Foundas asks the actors where the characters are today. They all seem to enjoy being together again.
- The Big Chill: A Reunion (SD, 56:05) First presented on the 1998 DVD, this documentary by Laurent Bouzereau concerns the making of The Big Chill and features interviews with cast and crew.
- Deleted Scenes (SD, 9:39) Most of these scenes wouldn’t have added anything to the story.
- Trailer (SD, 2:41)
- Booklet: A booklet featuring an essay by writer and filmmaker Lena Dunham and a 1983 piece by critic Harlan Jacobson.
- 2 DVDs: with feature and extras