St. Elmo’s Fire (1985)

18 Mar


Smith’s Verdict: *

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“St. Elmo’s Fire” is a great piece of ‘80s cheese—catchy, energetic, and fun to listen to.

Oh wait, I’m sorry—that’s the great 1985 John Parr single that serves as the theme song to the movie “St. Elmo’s Fire”…a movie which I do not consider a great piece of ‘80s cheese. Actually, I think it’s rather terrible.

It is possible to make a powerful, effective film about post-college graduates who go through the traumas of real life and have to deal with new issues. “St. Elmo’s Fire” is just not that film. The reason for that is that the characters—seven (yes, seven) materialistic young Georgetown graduates—are so bratty and so unlikeable that it’s hard to sympathize with any of them. And because there’s so many (yes, seven), that makes it all the more unpleasant to watch these people. We don’t care about their plights.

Where do I begin with the character descriptions? First, there’s Kirbo (Emilio Estevez)—a would-be lawyer (and also a waiter at St. Elmo’s Bar, where the group hangs out from time to time) who falls head-over-heels with an older woman (Andie MacDowell), a hospital intern whom Kirby is obsessed with. How obsessed? Well, later in the film, he’s turned down for a date so she can skiing and he follows her and knocks on her door repeatedly while yelling! Class act, guy.

Then, there’s Kevin (Andrew McCarthy)—a newspaper reporter who is a hopeless romantic. That’s his excuse for not having sex and remaining a virgin. His friends think he’s gay because he’s still a virgin. (Early in the film, one of them tries to set him up with a male neighbor. Ha ha.) He even strikes up a conversation with a prostitute and asks why she never tried to beseech him—she thought he was gay. So rather than ultimately sleep with Rob Lowe’s mother, like McCarthy did in 1983’s “Class,” he does manage to sleep with Leslie (Ally Sheedy), a young yuppie woman who seeks to be an architect…and who happens to be Kevin’s best friend’s girl.

Leslie’s boyfriend is Alec (Judd Nelson), a congressional aide who is easily the most detestable character in the bunch. He confesses to Kevin that he has been having sex with lingerie saleswomen while buying lingerie for Leslie who doesn’t know about his “extracurricular love life.” He presses Leslie to get married even though he’s out every night cheating on her, and yet when she does find out, he uses probably one of the worst defenses a disloyal boyfriend could use. This is after Alec found out that Leslie slept with Kevin after Leslie found out that Alec cheated on her: “You slept with Kevin!” “You slept with many!” “Yeah, many faceless women!” That’s his defense? I can’t write a certain seven-letter word for “jerk,” so…what a jerk!

Then, there’s Jules, a sexy young banker who has an acid tongue, isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and cannot wait ‘til the stepmother she hates dies…She functions for the film’s emotional climax in which I guess we’re supposed to feel sorry because of what she’s going through.

Then, there’s Billy (Rob Lowe), a former frat boy now drunk-driving musician who can’t handle his young marriage and is just too reckless to consider. The opening scene features him being taken away by police because he got in a car accident with his girlfriend Wendy (Mare Winningham), a nice girl who is probably the only decent character in the movie (but her stereotype is too heavily composed). He’s just laughing and pretending everything’s totally fine, even though he totaled Wendy’s car because he drove drunk. This is the first scene in the movie, and it shows why the movie can’t work. These characters are made into heroes—the film glorifies these young people instead of presenting them with a more acute attitude to better acknowledge their problems.

So we have Emilio Estevez, Andrew McCarthy, Rob Lowe, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore, and Mare Winningham. These were some of the best young actors of the 1980s, and it seems like every young actor in that decade wanted to be in this movie. Too bad they were trapped within smugly-written and obnoxiously-developed characters that makes them all look like idiots pretty much. No wonder young actors in young-adult ‘80s movies were considered the Brat Pack.

There are other problems with the script and how it heavily resembles TV material (and the way director Joel Schumacher frames certain shots in closeup doesn’t help much either), such as the gang all coming back together when something goes wrong, even though half of them are angry at each other. But it really comes down these characters. They’re not fun; they’re not sympathetic, they’re rude and obnoxious; they hang out at the same bar where they think they’re hot stuff (singing loudly and drinking sloppily); and I felt nothing at the end of “St. Elmo’s Fire” when they realize what they need to do in order to set out on a new experience—reality.

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