The Eighties Fever: ‘St. Elmo’s Fire’ (1985)

What happens when you review thirty year old films from the perspective of someone who gets classified as a millennial, but wouldn’t really consider himself one? With both popular and obscure films on the list, it’s a mixture of new insights into old films, all while celebrating what might just be the greatest decade ever. This is The Eighties Fever.

Viewing: First Time

St. Elmo’s Fire has been on my ‘Watch List’ for probably six or seven months, and I finally got around to watching it yesterday. I thought this coming-of-age tale would strike close to home, but instead, I was dealt an ensemble that I can only describe as “an 80’s R-rated Friends.” It’s got a stellar cast (more on that later), but had it not been for them allowing this film to receive a “Brat Pack” classification, I’m sure it would have instead ended up in 80’s obscurity alongside Xtro.

This 1985 coming-of-age film was directed by Joel Schumacher (yes, the man responsible for Batman & Robin). I realized this about twenty or so minutes into the film, and thought “This isn’t that bad of a movie, how did Batman & Robin end up so wrong?” Well, I was soon given an answer as St. Elmo’s took a massive 180 and began down a steep slope it never fully recovered from. Thankfully, it had the Brat Pack to make this film semi-watchable. Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, and Ally Sheedy were the main draws for me here, but a little Rob Lowe never hurt anyone. The Breakfast Club proved these three actors had chemistry, and this film only cemented it. The core seven had on-screen charisma in spades, which helped a great deal, considering the characters they play are complete scum.

As mentioned above, the story centered around seven recent college graduates who are trying to find their place in “the real world.” Leslie (Ally Sheedy) and Alec (Judd Nelson) are a couple in desperate need of some therapy. Alec is constantly screwing around behind Leslie’s back, who is unsure herself whether she wants to marry the fellow. Wendy (Mare Winningham) is a virgin with a crush on Billy (Rob Lowe), who struggles to keep a job and provide for his wife and kid. Kevin (Andrew McCarthy) is a writer that is sort of pessimistic, and harbors a crush on Leslie. Kevin (Emilio Estevez) is a law student who obsessively pursues his freshman crush (Andie MacDowell). Finally, there’s Jules (Demi Moore) who seems content to living her life fast and loose. Together, these seven make up one hell of an ensemble, for better or for worse.

I found it strange to classify this film as “coming-of-age.” Yes, it dealt with a group of young adults struggling to come to grips with adulthood, but these characters lack any sense of realism or relatability. I didn’t grow up in the 1980’s, but man, I highly doubt that everyone was getting that hammered, that high, and having that much sex with one another. It’s like Schumacher took the stereotypes of young adults and cranked the dial up to eleven. And even when the film started to show some signs of a deep emotional core, they were instantly lost. Within every character, I do see a better version of them. Everybody has had a relationship where both sides are struggling with commitment. Everybody has had that resistance in letting go of their past to embrace the future. Everyone knows what it’s like to watch someone you love or have a crush on, be with another person, when you think you’d be the better match for them. This film dealt with all that, except the execution in getting it across on the screen is lost completely to the viewer. Instead, I’m left wondering why I should even care for this group of womanizing, drug addicts who go to extreme means trying to impress the people they love.

Now, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the film. Sure, the above paragraph may give off a different vibe, but there are some good moments spread throughout. I’ve already mentioned the chemistry between the cast, and it’s these interactions spliced throughout the film that make it worth watching. I would believe that these seven were actually college graduates, because you get that sense of history with them. The reason this film is continually brought up today, and is considered a prominent film in the Brat Pack is because of this reason, I guarantee it. The story is like a bad fever dream, but I would watch this film over again just to watch the cast, because in them I see my friends. I can’t relate to the characters, but I can relate to the chemistry. And maybe, that’s why the film has endured.

I’m going to do a couple quick observational shout outs. First, it took me some time to realize (okay, I looked it up) that Martin Balsam, who played Wendy’s father, is Arbogast from Hitchcock’s Psycho. Second, for a film titled St. Elmo’s Fire, the bar called St. Elmo’s, or the weather phenomenon of the same name, are barely in the film at all. Rob Lowe’s character attempts to tie the latter into the story, but to be honest I have no clue why. I had given up on the film quite a while before that point.

Final Verdict: If you’re a fan of the Brat Pack, then give this a shot. If you’re a fan of coming-of-age films, go into this knowing that this isn’t your ordinary type of film in that genre. I’ve milked the hell out of this, but the chemistry between the cast is the selling point. We’ve all fought with our closest friends. We’ve all wanted to gouge their eyes out, or throw them over the fire escape, but we don’t. We’ve persisted, and always worked it out. That’s when you know that you have a deep, solid friendship; when wanting to kill them, but knowing you can’t live without them is in perfect harmony. The friendship in St. Elmo’s Fire may not have the story to support it, but who cares. It’s a damn fine film that, now at the end of writing this, maybe does have some meaning to it after all.

Grade: 8.5/10