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USA 1985
Directed by
Joel Schumacher
110 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

St Elmo's Fire

Watching St. Elmo's Fire, an account of the trials and tribulations of a group of seven friends recently graduated from the same college it is hard not to think of Frederico Fellini’s I Vitelloni. Writer-director Joel Schumacher has transposed the same coming-of-age elements to 1980s Chicago and given us not a very good film but a very good snapshot of a place and time.

In itself St. Elmo's Fire is tiresome, self-consciously trying to be hip as only the1980s could do and labouring its thin material with all manner of unconvincing angst-ridden material, from an opening car accident to a closing suicide attempt. It is however very effective as a memento mori of the manners and mores of mid-80s Reaganite America, much as Easy Rider might represent the 1960s or Saturday Night Fever  the 1970s. The film captures not just the fashion and décor disasters and the power ballads but the strange mixture of precocity and immaturity that characterized that generation, the most affluent that had ever existed to that time.

The protagonists of St. Elmo's Fire are not kids tuning in and dropping out or working in the neighbourhood hardware store but nascent yuppies who assume the yuppie lifestyle as a given. Money dominates the thoughts of Alex (Judd Nelson) is a Democrat who has taken a higher paying job with a Republican congressman, Kirby (Emilio Estevez), a law student decides that he will get the love of his life (Andie MacDowell) if he has lots of money, office-worker Jules (Demi Moore) is drowning in credit card debt and ready to use sex with her boss to get out of it and so on. Wendy (Mare Winningham) works as a social worker but then she is a greeting card heiress who lives at home.  Only Rob Lowe, who plays a saxophone-playing natural rebel, represents the possibility of the unknown.

St. Elmo's Fire was a hit in its day and for those who loved it at the time it will no doubt have nostalgia value as a kind of Friends of its day but for everyone else its main attraction will be sociological rather than filmic.

FYI: Demi Moore and Rob Lowe would go on to star in About Last Night... the following year.




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