Reeling inthe years

It's deja vu all over again with the rerelease of The Big Chill

Upon further rummaging through Kasdan's dusty attic, we rediscover some other little gems. You'll recall that Tom Berenger's Sam, the political firebrand of old, now captivates millions as the Tom Selleck-esque star of a macho TV series--but do you remember that when he tries to leap into his convertible, like he does every week on the boob tube, he sprains an ankle? There's that comic irony thing again, ladled on like double fudge.

Perfection: Jeff Goldblum's insufferable Michael, a failed novelist relegated to the staff of People magazine, now finds himself about to interview a 14-year-old blind baton twirler. "Good investigative journalism," he quips, then tries to pitch his editor on a self-serving story about the funeral reunion itself: "Lost hope. That's it. Lost hope," Michael burbles into the phone. When the boss demurs, Goldblum has this to say: "Boring? You think everything is boring. You wouldn't say that if it was the Lost Hope Diet."

Enduring this festival of neurotic self-flagellation again after 15 years is not always such a picnic. But for my money there's at least one other brilliant, enduring thing in The Big Chill amid all the weeping and dancing and drinking and grieving and re-bonding and talking and jogging and analyzing and whining and eating and carping and screwing and existentializing and pot-smoking. It is not the moment when Nick, giving voice to his old classmates' common fears, describes the "big chill" itself with rather too much ceremony in his voice: "Wise up. We're all alone out there, and tomorrow we're going out there again." It's not the famous conversation comparing suicide and masturbation, which we would do well to ignore this time around. And it's certainly not Harold's sticky lament for his dead friend, and for the squandered chances of the past: "Alex drew us together from the beginning--he was too good for this world."

Instead, here's a vote for Meg Tilly. And for one of the smallest but most telling details in an overrated movie that, for better or worse, has become an anthem for many Americans of a certain age and a certain political stripe who are afflicted with a certain kind of false memory. As Chloe, Alex's last girlfriend, Tilly is the outsider of the piece--younger than the others, a stranger to their hand-wringing, vaguely put off by their incessant talk, and turned off by oily Michael while drawn to embittered Nick.

Mid-Chill, most of the principals find themselves lounging on chairs and couches to watch a football game on television. Their alma mater, Michigan, is playing archrival Michigan State, and it's no time for people who aren't very emotionally flexible to give up their illusions. When a big deal Michigan pass completion is called back, Nick and Harold and Michael and the other people in the room protest loud and long, as if Dow Chemical were back on campus, recruiting. It takes Chloe, the sister from another planet, to see the obvious: "Clipping," she observes. "There was clipping on the play."

In a fog of wistful disillusionment and disappointment, no one else can make a call against their school, their deflated values, or the junk heap of their past. In that we just might find the essence of the thing.

The Big Chill.
Directed by Lawrence Kasdan. Written by Kasdan and Barbara Benedek. Starring William Hurt, Kevin Kline, Glenn Close, Tom Berenger, Mary Kay Place, Jeff Goldblum, and Meg Tilly. Opens Friday.

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