I am trying to stream-line my video collection by donating it all to a charity shop, ignoring their groaning shelves already full of unwanted VHS tapes. But before I give the films away, I will re-watch what once caught my attention and see if it is worthy of an upgrade to DVD. So today’s review will be about the 1985 film, St Elmo’s Fire.
St Elmo’s Fire sounds like it should be good. It has all the right actors of the day, and it is a ‘coming-of-age’ film, at a time when it seemed that the genre could do no wrong. Yet why do I get vague memories that this will be a wasted two hours as I slide in the clunky tape?
I remember the problem fifteen minutes in. There are seven characters here, and it is hard to find a single one that I care about. Even worse, the music and direction of the film seems to suggest that I, the viewer, should be sympathetic to these characters, but this feels very inappropriate given the way the characters behave. Shoehorning manufactured compassion into a film does not excuse for poor script / direction, nor will it dupe viewers into suddenly thinking that the moronic character is a nice guy.
Let’s take Kirby (Emilio Estevez). He bumps into an older girl he loved at school and wants to date her, so far so normal. However, he does this by turning into the sort of stalker that would have any sane person reaching for 911. He displays disturbing behaviour; even following this woman to a snowbound cabin with her boyfriend, and what does the director want us to believe? Yes, that this is an endearing character trait – Kirby assaults the woman with a kiss, she falls slightly in love with him, and he roars off into the sunset redeemed and giggling to triumphant music. Sorry, but no, Mr Director. The character might be played by the best giggler in the 80s, but obsessive behaviour to the point of scary is not a turn on.
Or, let’s look at Billy (Rob Lowe). He sleeps around with all the girls, despite the fact he has a wife and very small baby. What a guy, huh? What a dude! He obviously loved college as he was a playboy with no responsibilities, and is still trying to lead that lifestyle, ignoring the fact that everything has changed. I can believe that - what I cannot believe is again, the director trying to manipulate me into being sympathetic at two very wrong times. One is when Billy misreads (deliberately) the signals given by his drunken friend Jules, and attempts to molest her outside the house he shares with his wife and baby. She fights him off, which is witnessed by his wife, and he is left on his own outside. Cue, unbelievingly, sympathetic music. The other time is that he continually questions a friend’s virginity, and gets her to sleep with him as a 'parting present' just before he leaves town forever. The director tries to portray this as a romantic scene, which doesn’t work at all. Again, like with Emilio playing Kirby, I think the director is carried away by having Rob Lowe play this character – yes, the actor’s good looking, but that doesn’t redeem the character from being a complete git.
The other characters are just as unlovable – you have Alec (Judd Nelson) who wants to get married but cheats on his girlfriend constantly, Jules (Demi Moore) who is so two-dimensional she disappears if she turns sideways, and Wendy (Mare Winningham) – a non-entity whose name I only found out just now looking at wikipedia. The only two characters I feel the slightest compassion for is Kevin (Andrew McCarthey) and Leslie (Ally Sheedy). Leslie is Alec’s long-suffering girlfriend who finds out about his affairs and instead takes up with his best mate, Kevin, who has been in unrequited love with her for years. At least these characters feel slightly believable, and are given, especially Kevin, a bit more depth so the actor can play around. The most annoying thing is that the majority of these actors are good – surely there must have been better scripts out there to showcase their ability? The only thing this film showcases is disastrous fashion – Ally Sheedy in particular gets to wear some shockers. As for Mare Winningham - most of the time she looks like she is dressed for pantomime; about to tell Cinderella she cannot go to the ball.
This film for me finally falls into the lowest common denominator for film-viewing, which is solely whether the totty is worth the two hours. Forget script, plot, everything – how good looking are the guys and can I watch it again with the sound down? (One of Brad Pitt’s films, The Mexican, is perfect sound down material). Judd Nelson is lovely, and Rob Lowe is undeniably pretty, but this is an ensemble cast and they share equal screen time with five others, so it’s not even good value sound down. No DVD upgrade for this film.