'80s Movie Month: "St. Elmo's Fire" Review

Photo Credit: Columbia Pictures

'80s Movie Month: "St. Elmo's Fire" Review

Rating: R (sexual content, nudity, strong language, and drug use)
Length: 110 minutes
Release date: June 28, 1985
Directed by: Joel Schumacher
Genre: Drama/Romance

The Brat Pack, an infamous posse of hot young actors from the 1980s, stole the hearts of teens and young adults with coming-of-age flicks like "Pretty in Pink" and "The Breakfast Club." Some of them took the trip to young adulthood in "St. Elmo's Fire," a drama that reflects the harsh realities of the Yuppie-fueled, self-absorbed decade with a seemingly unintentional soap-opera underscore.

The story centers around seven recent Georgetown grads who were inseparable in college: Alec (Judd Nelson), Billy (Rob Lowe), Jules (Demi Moore—yes, that Demi Moore), Kevin (Andrew McCarthy), Kirby (Emilio Estevez, son of actor Martin Sheen), Leslie (Ally Sheedy), and Wendy (Mare Winningham). The crew, like many post-grads today, is trying to hold onto their friendships while embarking on their professional and personal adult lives. However, unlike many of today's post-grads, the "St. Elmo's Fire" crew has jobs, and most of them have money to buy trendy apartments and designer clothes.

Alec and Leslie decide to live together because Leslie balks at the idea of marriage. She's disturbed that the political climber Alec has switched political parties, and she wants to make a name for herself as an architect before sacrificing her career to be a wife and mother. Then we have Wendy, a rich good girl turned social worker, who loves the irresponsible Billy, who is already married and has a child. He repeatedly takes advantage of her feelings for him.

Kirby, a law student with a day job at St. Elmo's Bar, is in love with an older woman, Dale (a young Andie McDowell), who is a physician, and he's determined to do whatever it takes to impress her. Kirby rooms with Kevin, an aspiring writer who is secretly in love with Leslie. He is so smitten that he doesn't date, which leads the rest of the group to think he may be in the closet. Then we have Jules, the epitome of the '80s Yuppie wanna-be, who works at a bank and is careening toward financial disaster due to living a Dom Perignon lifestyle on a beer budget.

One scene finds several characters, including Jules, at a soup kitchen. After making fun of a bag lady, she says,''I'm going to end up a bag lady. Of course, I'll have alligator bags.'' Anyone who lived during the '80s will recognize that her line pretty much sums up the attitude of overly ambitious young adults of the time.

"St. Elmo's Fire" tackles infidelity, friendship, growing up, growing apart from your friends, and finding yourself in a society that puts increasing value on material wealth. The film is almost like a running commentary about the poster that hung in a lot of teen bedrooms in the '80s. I showed a rich kid with his fancy car standing in front of an estate and read, "Poverty Sucks."

In its 1985 review, theNew York Timessaid "St. Elmo's Fire" was a sad commentary about what teen and young adult moviegoers wanted in a movie. Part of the film's allure was the reunion of much of the cast of "The Breakfast Club," noticeably missing Molly Ringwald, who was probably happy she dodged this bullet.

This could have been a really good film if the screenplay, co-written by director John Schumacher and Carl Kurlander, had embraced the concept of "less is more." The film has too many characters and story lines to make it a great commentary on post-grad life in the '80s. McCarthy's character, Kevin, is really the only likeable one of the entire bunch. The rest of them have over-the-top stereotypical personalities, like the virginal Wendy or the bad boy Billy.

Sheedy, Winningham, and McCarthy give solid performances in the film, while the other actors who went on to greater fame are marginal at best. Nelson has way too much screen time. Estevez's entire story line was a yawner, and Moore's character was too ludicrous for even Meryl Streep to play well.

Some would argue that the catchy tune from this film, "St. Elmo's Fire (Man in Motion)," was more intriguing than the film. The song was recorded by an English artist unknown in the U.S., John Parr, and he disappeared from the entertainment business after a tour with Tina Turner.

If you want to relive the '80s and young romance, watch "Sixteen Candles." If you want to experience the dark side of the decade, stream "Less Than Zero." Catch "St. Elmo's Fire" if you want a glimpse at how obnoxious the upwardly mobile young adults of the mid-'80s were or you are a "Brat Pack" film connoisseur.

Rating: 3 out of 5