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Sunday, 31 January 2010

Classics Corner: St Elmo's Fire (1985)
A Group of friends, just out of college, struggle with adulthood. Their main problem is that they're all self-centered and obnoxious.


For a long time after I’d first seen “St Elmo’s Fire” I actually thought it was a John Hughes film. Given its focus on character development twinned with a subtle blend of comedy, drama and coming-of-age angst, you’d be forgiven for making the same mistake. Indeed, when Joel Schumacher released “St Elmo’” in 1985, Hughes was already ruling the genre with both “The Breakfast Club” and “Weird Science”, indeed three of “St Elmo’s’” lead actors (Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Emilio Estevez) also appear in “‘Breakfast Club”.
As a child of the 1980’s, many of the ‘feel good’ movies of that decade remain firm favourites two decades later – but is this one of them?

The story of “St Elmo’s Fire” centres around seven friends who have just graduated from university and are trying to find their way in life, whilst trying to find themselves. As a formula, it’s now been done a thousand times over and at an initial glance of the screenplay the characters could be described as stereotypical, tired and flat. Arguably however, it must be noted that this film was made 25 years ago and like the John Hughes comparisons which were drawn earlier, still stands the test of time, spawning countless copies even today (Judd Apatow and Seth Rogen – please stand up).

Sure, you’ve got some pretty standard characters in there - there’s the shy and selfless virgin, the rebellious, unstable musician and there’s the career man without morals. What sets this apart from many others that try and fail to reproduce a heartfelt “growing-up” movie is the finesse in which Schumacher combines a great one-liner with real emotion. It could be argued that the character stereotypes have become so common-place in films of this kind because they are echoed in the adolescent lives of countless generations – ours included.

It wouldn’t be a massive spoiler to reveal that throughout the course of the film the main characters all learn something about themselves and in some way grow. What gives this movie credibility is that the issues each protagonist faces are imprinted on the memory of anyone who has been trapped in the early-twenties void between childhood and adulthood – drug abuse, acceptance, parental pressures, death and unrequited love all feature and are treated with both respect and dry wit in equal measure.

Films that are set in the 1980’s now come with the expectance of a suitably euphoric soundtrack and ‘St Elmo’ doesn’t disappoint – David Foster supplies a rousing orchestral score throughout the film and there’s enough saxophone solo action to keep a Michael Bolton fan-club member happy. In addition to the soundtrack - set, wardrobe and script all combine to make this authentic to its 1980’s backdrop (admittedly, this shouldn’t have been hard, given that it was made during that time period).

Overall, this film is never going to change your life – it isn’t overly thought provoking, it isn’t pushing the boundaries of modern cinema and it won’t change the way that you feel about any of the character types that are portrayed. What it will do however is make you smile and make you remember. Maybe if you’re watching it without direction or purpose it will give you something to associate with. Maybe it will just remind you that Andie MacDowell has always been annoying.

Joel Schumacher is perhaps best remembered for his awesome 1987 “St Elmo’” follow up “The Lost Boys” and his sadly woeful contribution towards the Batman saga, however this film should not be overlooked and has perhaps been overshadowed by the master-craftsman that was John Hughes who made the moral journey tale his own. Even as a lesser-storyteller, Schumacher makes a decent job of this seminal ‘journey’ flick, providing an enjoyable and memorable picture of how and who we used to be.

Review Submitted and Rated by: Dave Gledhill



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