St. Elmo’s Fire

Once upon a time, coming-of-age movies used to be free-flowing, beautiful stories that just happened. The characters didn’t have contrived, forced heart-to-heart talks for the sake of the silver screen; instead, the talks just happened out of tough circumstances, and those characters really came of age in the 100 or so minutes we spent with them. St. Elmo’s Fire is one of those movies.

It maybe one of my new favorites, or at least my new favorite since I watched The Big Chill. And yes, I realize that both Siskel and Ebert hated it, and that Rob Lowe won a Razzie for his acting. These things are trivial to me.

I love movies about groups of friends, admittedly because I aspire to write one someday, but I don’t love every movie. This one, however, tapped into something very specific and special for me. I found that I identified with every single character in the Brat Pack, and not just because they were all in a post-college free-for-all. (Side note, why am I using so many hyphens?) No, these characters each had something to sympathize with, something I could relate to on some small level: Emilio Estevez as Kirby was the guy who just couldn’t accept the truth, that Dale (Andie MacDowell) wasn’t that into him. Rob Lowe as Billy Hicks was the guy who couldn’t grow up, and the guy who was meant for more than DC could offer him. Andrew McCarthy as Kevin was the writer who couldn’t find anything inspiring to write about. Demi Moore as Jules was the girl who couldn’t change her life for herself. Judd Nelson as Alec was the guy who was just trying to do the right thing, Ally Sheedy as Leslie was the girl who had a good thing going but wanted more, and Mare Winningham as Wendy was the girl who just couldn’t break out of her comfort zone. Those are the things that hit me on a deep level, and I’m sure there are more little nuances for other people who watch. But the fact that an entire cast of characters could provide that much of a visceral reaction is pretty phenomenal. Nevermind the mediocre ratings.

I also want to point out how talented the Brat Packers are. Judd Nelson is quite the chameleon, having played John Bender in The Breakfast Club the same year (1985), and Ally Sheedy was Allison Reynolds in the same movie—the silent, rebellious one. In the span of 365 days, they demonstrated quite a convincing range of acting abilities.

I’m a recently-converted fan of Rob Lowe, having seen him on Parks and Recreation, so I enjoyed watching his mulleted, sexed-up, drugged-out performance in this movie and also saw it as a testament to his abilities, but whatever, Razzies. And Demi Moore was great, too. She can be introverted, as she was at the start of G.I. Jane, or she can be off-the-wall and carefree, as she was in this one. I wish this movie got a little more credit for its universality. I guess I’ll have to fly the flag myself.