Self-Created Drama and the Numbnuts Who Film It: A Review of St. Elmo’s Fire
It’s sure nice to know that the miserable trend of preconceiving the stereotype that young people are all members of the selfish idiot archetype isn’t new for Generation Y. St. Elmo’s Fire is proof positive that such portrayals have their own unique manifestations in each generation. This is the GenX version we have before us today.
Starring the Brat Pack actor’s brigade of the mid-80s (who are known more for the more substance-laden films The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles). Now, most of the Brat Pack movies to date had featured some-but-not-all of the Pack. This was supposed to be The Big One. The One That Brought Them All Together (except for Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall, who were too young for this one). But what this movie turned out to be is a pile of incoherent subplots that, for all I can tell, were MEANT to come together into some big moral solution towards the end of the film, but didn’t. What you see when you view the film is six different vignettes about eight friends who went to college together and recently graduated….each one more selfish and melodramatic than the last.
Thus, I find I cannot review this in one piece. I find it more effective that I should review the film and criticize it in parts: one review for each subplot. Then you’ll get a better understanding for how painfully fragmented this movie it. Let us begin…
Subplot #1: The Stalker and Andie MacDowell. Possibly the most straight-forward creepy member of the post-college ensemble cast is Kirby (played by Emilio Estevez). He gets back in touch with an old flame (Andie MacDowell) who he took out on a grand total of ONE DATE in college, and decides that she’s still hot in spite of her horse mouth and frizzy hair, and stalks her senseless. He spends the entire movie either stalking her, harassing her when she CLEARLY doesn’t want to be around him, and trying to impress her by riding his bike to her house in the rain, renting limousines, and even house-sitting for rich people so he can throw a huge mansion party for her (which she doesn’t even attend…ouch). While Kirby’s one of the more optimistic characters, and for that I have to admit he’s not as insufferable as some of the others, he just gets more and more obsessed with Andie MacDowell as the movie goes on, and by the end, you pretty much hate him as much as everyone else.
I do get some laughs at how Andie MacDowell’s character CLEARLY does not want this runt hanging off her elbow anymore and the awkwardness that ensues as a result.
Subplot #2: Mr. ScrewUp’s Many, Many Failures (and blonde girls). Rob Lowe (already so much promise for a quality performance) plays a frat boy who can’t hold down a job because he gets drunk all the time and sleeps around with a large amount of nameless blonde girls. He’s the one who has the hardest time cutting ties with college, because now that he has to stop partying and get a job, life suddenly sucks. He has a baby with a bratty woman who wants to leave him because he refuses to grow the hell up and be a father. And….that’s pretty much it. I’m not kidding.
Subplot #3: Granny’s Break Out. This subplot takes the least amount of screen time to present and resolve, as it’s central character, Wendi (Mare Winningham) is probably the most mature and sensible of the cast, and therefore, you can’t get the stupid melodrama that is this movie to stick to her. Instead, she spends the movie dressing up like Granny from Looney Tunes, confessing her crush on Rob Lowe’s character Billy, and breaking away from her helicopter parents who expect her to marry and have babies as soon as she moves out of their house. Again, that’s essentially it. Her subplot does help contribute to Rob Lowe’s a bit in that she’s the catalyst that helps him grow up by the end.
I have to say, if the movie wanted to take a much more effective approach to creating a story, instead of giving Wendi her own milquetoast subplot that takes up no more than one tenth of the film, make her the go-between for all of the other idiots’ stories instead. She’s probably the most relatable character and the most realistic to boot, so instead of adding melodrama to melodrama, make her the glue that brings the film together! I guess that would make her de facto lead in a Brat Pack ensemble drama, and that might not work out for the 80s audience that came to see Rob Lowe and Demi Moore to begin with.
Subplot #4: The Insufferable Duo. This one is probably the most painful-to-watch subplot of them all. It also takes up most of the movie. Here we have Yuppie Couple Leslie (Ally Sheedy) and Alec (Judd Nelson) who have just moved in together. Leslie wants to be a career girl, and Alec wants to get the fuck married. When Leslie puts him off, he decides the best way to get Leslie to accept his proposal is to…sleep with other girls.
I am not shitting you.
I mean, who WOULDN’T go after these nostrils? You could shove quarters up there and have room for more!
When Leslie finds out, all hell breaks loose, Alec kicks her out, and she sleeps with Alec’s best friend (see Subplot #5 below). For the last act of the movie, Alec keeps trying to win her back, but fails thanks to his own dominant piss-poor attitude. Leslie is a fairly likeable character, but Alec is, quite frankly, the biggest dick in the entire movie. He’s a selfish brat who falls apart when things don’t go his way, he throws temper tantrums a four-year-old would think was unreasonable, and he is completely oblivious to other people, including his girlfriend.
Leslie’s flaw is she’s a bit of a contradiction. She wants to be independent, make her own choices, and be a career woman, yet she becomes an emotional wreck when Alec cheats on her and immediately flies to someone else for comfort instead of standing on her own two feet. She does get a little bit of redemption for this when she finally calls Alec a shithead to his face at the end, but she’s a bit of a flip-flopper character, so you can’t really tell if she’s worth rooting for or not. Standing next to Alec, she certainly is, but as a solo character, she’s a bit of a passive moper. But she’s still nothing compared to…
Subplot #5: Emo Writer Smokes A Lot of Cigarettes and Pretends To Be Straight. Andrew McCarthy plays Kevin, a chain-smoking neo-beatnik who’s easily the most emotional character in the film, as well as the most pessimistic. He spends most of the movie walking and moping in dark alleys, brushing off suggestions that he’s gay (to little avail), and hinting that he’s in love with someone unrequitedly. His plot doesn’t really fall into place until the last act of the movie when he reveals to a mourning Leslie that he is in love with her, they get drunk, and screw until the break of dawn. When Alec finds out, he beats Kevin repeatedly, and Kevin essentially sticks it to him because he won…until Leslie dumps him too. Then he goes back to being depressed…and that’s the end of his subplot.
Kevin’s a whiny little prick who single-handedly destroyed his best friend’s chance of getting the girl of his dreams back. I don’t like him or his plot. Fun fact: it took Andrew McCarthy fifteen years to kick the cigarette addiction he developed while filming this. Hope it was worth the lung cancer, buddy.
Subplot#6: Demi Moore Does Drugs. And Her Boss. Demi Moore’s subplot is the closest thing we have to a glue for this pile of puzzle pieces. She basically does a ton of crack, sleeps with her boss, waits impatiently for the impending death of her abusive stepmother, and everyone else from all of the other subplots worry about her. At the end of the film, all of the subplots make a sad attempt at uniting as Demi Moore’s character Jules gets fired and has a freak out in front of an open window.
“Hey! You’ve been evicted! Might as well torch the joint!”
She’s the one that has the most growing up to do, aside from Rob Lowe. At the same time, you can kind of tell that she was meant to represent the quarter-life crisis, and therefore, is the characterization of the ‘moral’ of the film.
Some moral. She ends the film jobless, homeless, and loveless. Whoopie.
I guess, all in all, if you’re in it for the nostalgic element, this movie is worth a watch, but I would probably only pop the DVD in again if I needed background noise. Too much arguing, too much melodrama, not enough for me to actually like any of the characters. This movie lacks the substance The Breakfast Club had, the sensitivity Pretty in Pink had, and the staying power that both of the aforementioned flicks had.
I guess leaving Molly Ringwald out wasn’t such a great idea after all.