Monday, February 20, 2012

"God, I wish I could get her back!"*

One of these just doesn't belong?

       Sometimes I like to write about movies that I enjoy or just have opinions about. I did this with the film Heathers a while back, and I’ll likely do it again. I like movies a lot, sometimes even movies that I know aren’t “good movies.” Of course, movies are a lot like wine: the kind you like is the good kind, right?**

        I had the opportunity to re-watch St. Elmo’s Fire (Joel Schumacher, 1985) the other night while I was stripping my dining room table (Ron and I got rid of cable, and now I watch Hulu shows on the TV through my laptop, with “limited commercial interruptions”).

        It might be a sign of my advancing age (maturity? Cool! I hope so!) that when I watch movies from my childhood, I take particular notice of everyone’s apartment/living scenario. In this case, I think it was directly tied to the fact that I’ve been looking at apartments for the last two months and will be moving shortly (as I've mentioned previously). 

        In any event, St. Elmo’s Fire is an improbable movie about a very probable group of friends (except for one, which I will get to in a minute) who have just graduated from an EXTREMELY improbable alma mater: Georgetown University. They’re all trying to find themselves and figure out their places in the world. Of course, they all look to be in their early-to-mid-thirties, so it’s a touch unrealistic, but who cares? It’s mostly Brat-Packers, and we love them all. Or at least I do.

        The first time I saw this movie, I was probably 15 or 16-ish, and it seemed to me that it was a silly, stupid movie about silly, stupid people (how the hell did these characters get into Georgetown? I only know one person who went to Georgetown and she’s Mensa-candidate smart. And now you’re telling me a drugged-out saxophone player who can’t keep a job as an upholsterer went there? Seriously? Okay, whatever.). And while that original theory holds up for the most part, it seems like I may have short-changed this brilliant film its place in history.

        For instance, while garish and unreasonable, people in the eighties knew a great deal about style. Bold colors, large hair, entire walls of your home devoted to a photograph of someone with a Flock of Seagulls haircut, and lots and lots of un-ironic saxophone music abound in this film, and you know what? It is kind of amazing.
Billy/Rob wails on the sax. Without irony or a jazz context to support him.

        [A brief tangent: the 80’s used to be the decade we (and by “we” I mean my generation that came of age in the late 90’s but were born in the 80’s) were able to point to and say, “Can you believe things were ever that ridiculous?” But now, like everything else will eventually be, the 80’s are back in a big way. Leggings and skinny jeans and booties and wayfarers and baggy sweatshirts and leg warmers: it’s all back. I guess I should have known. Anything Michael J. Fox or Molly Ringwald did, said or wore will forever be cool in my book.]

        So, back to St. Elmo’s Fire. These people are out of college for all of four months and already their lives are falling apart. Alec (Judd Nelson) wants Leslie (Ally Sheedy) to marry him, but since she won’t, he regularly bangs a salesgirl at the lingerie shop where he buys Leslie gifts (although, let’s be honest: when a man buys lingerie for a gal, it’s not a gift for her). Alec and Leslie’s best friend, Kevin (Andrew McCarthy, one of my earliest and most enduring crushes) is in love with Leslie and knows about Alec’s cheating.

        Jules (Demi Moore) is a rich, coked-out slut who can’t control her spending and is stuck as executrix of her hated ex-stepmother’s will. But her real problem is her father doesn’t love her. (She also has a hot pink apartment. Not necessarily a problem, merely worth mentioning.)

        Billy (Rob Lowe) and Wendy (Mare Winningham) are an odd pair of best friends whose relationship exists solely because Wendy keeps giving the drunken, childish Billy (who has a wife and a child, by the way) money. Also, he’s intrigued by the fact that she’s still a virgin. At 22. What? Call Social Services! How dare this woman be a 22-year-old virgin in the 80’s!

        Kirby (Emilio Estevez) rounds out the group as the crazy person who’s so desperate to win over med student Dale (Andie McDowell) that he stalks her all over the city. Yeah, that plotline is kind of dull, so I most likely will not mention it again.

        Okay, so obviously, these people have “upper-middle class problems” and it’s not really that compelling to the world at large whether or not they’re able to work it out, but damned if I wasn’t glued to the screen the entire time.

        For one thing: Leslie and Alec have one of the coolest apartments I’ve ever seen. It’s a huge, wide-open loft space and they install this glass-tiled wall to separate the apartment into rooms. That blew my mind. And, honestly, it made me care less about Alec's cheating and more about keeping those two crazy kids together. For the sake of the apartment.

        Also, there are several lines in the movie where I thought to myself, “Is this where this saying came from, or did they just repeat a cliché?” For instance: 
        “I’m beginning to think there are no coincidences.” –Leslie

        Or this interchange between Kirby and Kevin:

        “I always thought we’d be friends forever.”

        “Yeah, well forever got a lot shorter, suddenly, didn’t it?”
        Then there's the line which Demi says to Rob, "You break my heart. But then, you break everybody's heart." Ouch.

        But perhaps my favorite line, spoken by Wendy just before she gives Billy her virginity:

        “Last night I woke up to make myself a peanut butter sandwich. And it was my kitchen, my apartment, and it was the best peanut butter sandwich of my entire life.”

        That quote I liked just because it seemed custom-made for me, since I’m moving into my first apartment by myself.

        But I want to underscore some of the significant things this movie has to offer. It talks about how hard it is to go from “student” to “working adult”: that is hard. There’s no road map, and at least these kids graduated in a booming economy. Hell, in the 80's people were wiping their butts with money. My generation graduated into horrible unemployment rates and a god-awful housing market while being told at the same time to wait to get married. Hell, at this point, marriage might be the only thing that keeps a person out of the poor house. At least you can split rent and utilities, not to mention the tax breaks.

        Also, just because you love someone doesn’t mean they’re the right person for you. This seems simple enough, but most of us still end up learning it the hard way.

        Another lesson: drugs are bad.

        And finally, and this one is difficult, just because you were best friends in high school or college doesn’t mean you’ll be best friends forever. People aren’t fully formed at 20, or maybe even at 30, so don’t beat yourself up if your gorgeous, wacky, witty gang of pals isn’t around forever.

        Before I sign off, I’d like to get to that friend that doesn’t quite belong. If you’ve seen the movie, I think you know whom I’m talking about: Mare Winningham. Why does she look, sound and act like a 45-year-old and how does she fit into this group of young people? Why is Billy so hot to sleep with her? Okay, so Mare was 26 when this movie was made, but so were half of those other “kids.” Why does she seem so old? And what’s more interesting: the rest of them have aged, but she hasn’t. She looks the same now as she did in 1985! Maybe she’s a vampire?
The only evidence she's older is that her hair is longer.

*Perhaps the best/dumbest quote from St. Elmo’s Fire, uttered by Alec (Judd Nelson) when he’s BY HIMSELF. A true testament to Judd's acting is that it isn't more ridiculous.
**Something my dad likes to say.


  1. I never have seen this movie. It was not on my radar screen at all back in '85, so I'm glad to have you elaborate on it's nuances so eloquently, Lacey. I was all over "The Big Chill" from '83 cuz that was MY gen's angst movie.

  2. It's not Kirby, it's KIRBO. And the quote is "God I wish I could get IT back!" Not get her back! Right before he says it he yells "WASTED LOVE!" so that's what he was referring to. Sounds like you need to watch this movie again so you can get things right next time! By the way, these are 7 of the most fucked up, immature assholes I've ever seen! They're all nutty as fruitcakes!

    1. My goodness! It is Kirby, but perhaps you're right about the rest. Sorry this upset you so much! It's just for shits and giggles.

    2. It didn't upset me. Was just pointing things out. They are all messed up, though. Alec is a two timing, stuck up douchebag, Jules is a crazy, coke addicted slut, Kevin is a pessimistic wimp, Kirbo is an obsessed, weird stalker, Billy is a cheating, alcoholic, immature prick, Wendy is a dumb, gullible, weak idiot and Leslie is a cold hearted, evil bitch! What a messed up bunch of self centered assholes, huh?