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Dustin Putman

Dustin's Review
St. Elmo's Fire (1985)
2 Stars

Directed by Joel Schumacher
Cast: Andrew McCarthy, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Mare Winningham, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Demi Moore, Andie McDowell, Martin Balsam, Jenny Wright, Joyce Van Patten, Jon Cutler, Blake Clark, Anna Maria Horsford, Martin Laurance.
1985 – 110 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for profanity and sexual situations).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, November 1, 1998.

"St. Elmo's Fire" has often been compared to as a cross between, "The Breakfast Club," and, "The Big Chill," but there is one noticably large difference. While those two films were about relatively mature, intelligent people, "St. Elmo's Fire," features seven characters that are, for the most part, obnoxious and bratty. I guess that's why the cast of this movie was routinely labeled, "The Brat Pack."

As already noted, "St. Elmo's Fire," follows seven close friends in Georgetown, following graduation from college. Alec (Judd Nelson), who has become an assistant of a senator, desperately wants to marry his live-in girlfriend, Leslie (All Sheedy), even though he can't help but constantly cheat on her. Kevin (Andrew McCarthy), a cynical, chain-smoking writer, is totally against love, and secretly holds a secret affection for a certain someone. Wendy (Mare Winningham), the virgin of the group, still lives with her overbearing parents, and against the wishes of her parents, loves Billy (Rob Lowe), a rebellious guy who is already married and has a child. Jules (Demi Moore) is the wild one, a secretary who says she is sleeping with her boss, and starts to have a cocaine problem. And Kirby (Emilio Estevez) holds an almost obsessive love for a slightly older pre-med student (Andie McDowell).

"St. Elmo's Fire," is one of those coming-of-age movies, where the characters are simply trying to come to terms with growing up, but it is far from being one of the better films in that genre. The main problem with the film is that the screenplay, by Joel Schumacher and Carl Kurlander, is very dumbed-down. Aside from maybe Mare Winningham and Emilio Estevez, the other five main characters are so annoying and self-involved that serious things occur in certain scenes, and yet the characters still remain only concerned with themselves. Sure, some people are like that in real life, but this film paints all young adults as basically immature little children.

Far more successful are some of the supporting characters, who are so much more smartly written that I longed for the film to have the secondary people switch places with the main characters. By far, the most successful subplot involves Estevez's deep love for Andie MacDowell, who gives the film's best, most natural performance. Their penultimate sequence together, set at a snowy cabin, is so full of magic, excitement, and spontaneity that it just goes to show how misguided the rest of the film really is. Also interesting in a supporting role is Anna Maria Horsford, as a prostitute who meets McCarthy. The film could have really made something of those few scenes involving them together, but it fails to do anything with it.

Other subplots are either ill-advised, anti-climactic, or both. For example, the whole story involving the love triangle between Nelson, Sheedy, and McCarthy is beyond juvenile. And the film sets up Moore's drug problem, but it is never dealt with, and nothing is ever really solved or discussed.

"St. Elmo's Fire," is one of those films that feature a great deal of capable actors trapped within the confines of a stupid screenplay. Something could have certainly been done with this material, but again, the characters and situations are written at what seems to be a grade-school level, and therefore, everything collapses under its own weight.

© by Dustin Putman

Dustin Putman