More Like The Big Dull


I can’t believe this film was nominated for a Best Screenplay Oscar. It plays out like a Time-Life commercial for a generic “Sounds of the 60s” CD box set. When it came out in 1983, it got mostly glowing reviews from reviewers who were likely the same age as the characters. It hasn’t aged well compared to other popular films like WarGames, Mr. Mom, Trading Places, The Outsiders, and Tender Mercies. All those films had far better scripts than this clunker. It’s filled with characters that are way less interesting than the writers seem to think they are. The most cringeworthy bit was the ending where Sarah (Glenn Close) convinces her husband Harold (Kevin Kline) to act like a stud farm Secretariat by sleeping with her friend as a “favor.” Totally unbelievable and totally gross.

Food in Films: So many scenes to choose from. Let's go with Wonton Express. They're so posh they even pair it with Asian beer.

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The spoiler part of your post isn't entirely unbelievable, though, given the mores of their youth, which were more casual & giving about sex. They could easily have looked on it as a generous & considerate thing for friends to do for one another. It was a totally different zeitgeist then! I'm of an age with them & I could see it as generous & considerate for some, if not for myself.

I do agree that the characters all seem to be more "written" than actually lived. For a more accurate view of post-60s people, go to The Return of the Secaucus Seven; or even better, Jonah Who Will Be 25 in the Year 2000. The latter still isn't out on an American DVD, unfortunately, though it might be found online; but it deals with friends who are former young countercultural rebels, still trying to live out their ideals in a very changed world. None of them have the glamorous careers of the people in The Big Chill; they're far more realistic & complex than that.

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Maybe some people (definitely not everyone) of their generation had more casual attitudes about sex (after all, Harold did forgive Sarah's affair with Alex), but in their own house?! Yeesh. Get a motel room!

Thanks for the recommendation for Return of the Secaucus 7. I'll add it to my list since I enjoy Sayles' films. Eight Men Out and Matewan are both excellent.

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The acting is uneven in Sayles' low-budget film, but overall it's a strong story, and also a fairly honest one. I completely agree with you about Sayle's work, which is always rewarding. :)

To this day I have very mixed feelings about The Big Chill. It does touch on the ways some people from my generation adjusted & sometimes compromised as they got older—don't we all to some degree?—but they never quite convince me that they were as genuinely countercultural in their youth as the script wants to make us believe.

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You make a good point that they were never as genuinely countercultural as they might've thought they were. Sarah even says something to that effect when she asks, "Was it all just fashion?" And yes, you're right, nearly everyone makes compromises as they get older.

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For at least some of them, I think it was, or just doing what was cool & popular at the time. Which is different even from more middle-of-the-road kids actually intrigued by some of the ideas being tested, who might have incorporated a little of that into their lives for real—I'm one of those, I guess. I can smile ruefully at some of the things I embraced back then, but there's a fair amount that still makes sense to me—the best of it, I hope. Life is a lot easier with the intensity & fervor of youth in many ways; but getting older requires more depth & complexity, if done right. Or so it seems to me as I head towards my 67th birthday in just three more months. :)

The characters in both Secaucus Seven & Jonah are the real thing, however. They're trying to figure out what to keep, what to let go of, and how to live forward in a changed world, not to lose their integrity but not to cling to what doesn't work any longer, either.

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I agree. Saw this one in the theater and remember how much it was lauded by the critics (read cheerleaders) as a definitive film about the '60s generation. Then I saw it: "WTF are the critics talking about!" thought I. It's a poor script and poor acting. Very little to do with the '60s aside from the randomly picked out soundtrack. Many other great '60s films out there. I'd say skip this one!

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Oh God, the young generations of so Puritanical it hurts...

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If it's Puritanical to think it's weird that a woman would ask her husband to sleep with one of her best friends to try to get her pregnant then I guess I should be wearing a Pilgrim hat. ;)

I love older movies but this script is so awkward it made me cringe. There's plenty of better films about boomers like "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "Ordinary People."

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