Film Review: St Elmo’s Fire

St Elmo's Fire

With prices for cinema tickets now reaching ridiculous heights it’s not often I will treat myself to a new release unless it’s something I simply cannot wait for. Instead, I’m happy to content myself with a cheap DVD or a film on TV which may have slipped through my critical net and, believe me, there have been far too many. Whether the films featured here are recent or old I’ll still be providing my honest opinion on them and, with the benefit of hindsight in many cases, may offer a slightly different take to contemporary reviewers.

St Elmo’s Fire (1985)

St Elmo's FireEver since I watched The Breakfast Club (1985) and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) I have wanted to see Joel Schumacher’s St Elmo’s Fire. Only recently have I got round to it having previously seen footage on John Parr’s excellent 80s hit St Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion). Those brief snippets intrigued me and with the film including members of the legendary Brat Pack I was keen to see these young stars showing the potential that many would sadly never fulfil later in their lives.

The film focuses on a group of seven friends who have graduated from college and entered the real world of work but maladjustment is felt by everyone and the future is somewhat difficult to face. Alec (Judd Nelson) and Leslie (Ally Sheedy) have recently moved in together and are seemingly the perfect couple. Alec is pursuing a career in politics but has recently switched his allegiance from the Democrats to the Republicans. Eager to marry Leslie, Alec lives by the motto that as long as the couple are unmarried he will pursue other women. Leslie wants to be an architect and make a name for herself before marrying and having children so continues to resist Alec’s marriage advances. Billy (Rob Lowe) is married with a child but longs for his college days, losing jobs frequently, womanising relentlessly but showing a talent for the saxophone. Wendy (Marie Winningham) is shy and still a virgin, pressured by her parents to marry a man of their choice, but her heart beats only for Billy who she stands by throughout but knows he’ll never look at her in the same way. Kevin (Andrew McCarthy) is a struggling writer searching for the meaning of life but his image as a loner, having not been with a woman for two years, leaves some suspecting he might actually be gay but afraid to admit the truth. Jules (Demi Moore) works in a bank but is on the road to an early grave being a cocaine addict and not heeding the warnings of her concerned friends. Finally, there is Kirby/Kirbo (Emilio Estevez) who wants to be a lawyer but earns money as a waiter at the friends’ local hangout – St Elmo’s Bar. Kirby becomes infatuated with a nurse (Andie MacDowell) who was an older student at the same college but one Kirby is desperate to be with no matter what price he has to pay.

St Elmo’s Fire taps into a phase of life that many will be familiar with – the difficult transition from college/university to work, marriage and families. Seeing the seven friends yearn for their carefree college days reminded me of my own experience longing for university. Though I worked hard for my degree it was still three years of bliss having a few lectures to attend each week, ample opportunity for frequenting pubs and seemingly having the whole world ahead of me. Leaving all that behind is difficult and a part of me does still long for university, though not as much as I did prior to meeting Mrs B. In St Elmo’s Fire Billy is probably the one struggling the most, or at least the one who makes no secret of his frustration. His wild streak of partying and womanising are a way of clinging on desperately to the past and at one point he even returns to college to a hero’s welcome but this only makes things worse as he watches the other students. Constantly struggling for money, Billy is frequently bailed out by Wendy who also has an unfulfilling life working for the social services and is crumbling under the pressure of expectation from her parents. With Billy she tastes a little rebellion but even he manages to alienate her when the two friends are about to sleep together only for Billy to suddenly make light of Wendy’s appearance.

Alec, Leslie and Kevin’s stories all come together as the film progresses. Some believe Kevin hangs around the couple frequently due to a romantic interest in Alec, but Leslie is adamant the writer just needs to find the right girl to help him out of his difficult bout of loneliness. Kevin’s secret does come to the fore near the end of the film and has some devastating consequences. Aside from rebuffing Alec’s marriage proposals there doesn’t seem to be much affecting Leslie other than having to constantly be there for best friend, Jules. When she does inevitably learn of Alec’s affairs their relationship is left devastated while Alec reveals that beneath his political exterior is a fierce aggression that comes to the fore as his world falls apart around him. Leslie finds solace with the support of Kevin and Jules but the ruin of her relationship with Alec does see her look to the future differently.

The other characters’ stories I didn’t find as engaging. I’ve never rated Demi Moore as an actress and didn’t find much to change that perception here. Though her character, Jules, is going through a difficult time and fighting a terrible drug addiction I felt this was the weak link in the film. Elsewhere is Kirby’s pursuit of an older nurse which can be interpreted as either romantic or worryingly obsessive. Trying to arrange a date with the nurse, Kirby resorts to not only confronting her at a party but driving many miles to face her while she’s on a ski holiday. Perhaps my interpretation here is tied too much into contemporary attitudes but I felt Kirby’s behaviour was more tantamount to stalking than romance, but that’s just me. Emilio Estevez showed off his talents better in The Breakfast Club and would go on to enjoy one of the more successful careers of the Brat Pack members. St Elmo’s Fire becomes ever more dramatic towards the end with friendships and relationships beyond breaking point but suddenly everything is resolved in the blink of an eye. I have nothing against happy endings and the one here was appropriate but it just seemed to be resolved far too easily for my liking. The majority of the cast were very good with Judd Nelson (one of the best in the Brat Pack), Andrew McCarthy, Rob Lowe and Marie Winningham being the highlights of the group for me.

I hoped I would love St Elmo’s Fire as much as The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off but by the end I felt something was missing. I didn’t find all of the characters engaging, particularly Jules and Kirby, but the rest of the cast were good. Though not the best teen film of the 80s I still think is an important one from a decade that was as memorable for its music as its films.

Verdict: 7½/10

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Dave Brown

I was born in Barnsley, South Yorkshire, England and have always been a bookworm and enjoyed creative writing at school. In 1999 I created the Elencheran Chronicles and have been writing ever since. My first novel, Fezariu's Epiphany, was published in May 2011. When not writing I'm a lover of films, games, books and blogging. I live in Barnsley, with my wife, Donna, and our six cats - Kain, Razz, Buggles, Charlie, Bilbo and Frodo.
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