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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

THE BIG CHILL: Criterion DVD Review

Courtesy of The Criterion Collection
Criterion DVD Review
1983, 102 minutes
Rated R

Review by Joshua Handler

The Breakfast Club, Friends, and countless others films/TV shows have been influenced by Lawrence Kasdan's warmhearted American classic, The Big Chill, loved for both its relatability and its soundtrack.  I had not seen The Big Chill before reviewing Criterion's DVD release with 4K restoration, so when the disc came in the mail, I was forced to finally view it.  I enjoyed myself throughout, and my appreciation for the film grew watching the excellent special features.

The Big Chill is an ensemble drama that follows what happens when a group of Baby Boomers reunite for the first time since college after the death of one of their friends.  The principal cast includes Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Tom Berenger, Meg Tilly, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Mary Kay Place, and JoBeth Williams.  This movie launched all of their careers, and it's not hard to see why.  Every one of them gives likable, believable performances, and their chemistry is among the best ever seen on film.  In one of the special features, the cast was describing how Kasdan did everything he could to keep the set environment inviting and friendly.  The cast also described how Kline and Goldblum lived together during the shoot and rented a piano so that everyone could sing and dance at their condo, which became known as the party place.  The onscreen chemistry appears to be representative of the off-screen chemistry.

There are countless moments in The Big Chill that I'll never forget, many related to that amazing soundtrack.  For example, at the funeral at the beginning of the film, a character goes up to give a speech and starts reading the lyrics to The Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want".  The reading then fades into the actual song playing across into the next scene.  And, there are many pieces of dialogue that melted my heart because they were things I had thought but had never put into words.

And I think that's one of the reasons that this movie has endured - people see themselves in it.  It's fascinating because in the excellent hour-long "making-of" documentary included in the special features, we hear that The Big Chill almost didn't get made.  Because of the massive successes of Body Heat, The Empire Strikes Back, and Raiders of the Lost Ark (the latter two of which Kasdam co-wrote), the studios offered to let Kasdan make anything he wanted.  However, they were against The Big Chill, the one project that Kasdan wanted to make.  The on-set stories from that doc are equally fascinating.  One of my favorite moments is when Kevin Kline discusses singing and dancing to songs played in his ear piece.  Because the sound man wanted a clean track without music, Kline and cast had ear pieces in their ears for the scene in which they all dance to "Ain't Too Proud to Beg".  We are treated to viewing this scene without the music, which is hilarious.  In another scene, Kline is in his car drumming on his steering wheel to a "song on the radio".  In reality during the filming of that scene, the song choice wasn't set yet, so we see essentially see Kline drumming to nothing.

The other major special feature is a 40-minute cast and crew Q&A reunion at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2013.  While this Q&A covers some of the same ground as the making-of doc, it still has some great moments.  It's also fascinating to see the cast 30 years older and discussing the film.  Also included on the disc are deleted scenes and a new interview with Kasdan.

Overall, if you love The Big Chill, it's a no-brainer that you should buy this.  The film looks and sounds great, and the special features are enlightening.  If you blind-buy The Big Chill, there's a very good chance you'll love the movie.  Again, there's a reason it's over 30-years-old and still widely-loved.  While this movie may not hold as strong a place in my heart as it does in many others', it's still an immensely enjoyable, beautifully-acted film that I would highly recommend seeking out.

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