Big Chill, The (1983): Kasdan Oscar-Nominated Picture, Ensemble Headed by Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, William Hurt

A serio-comedy, Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill belongs to the sub-genre of reunion films, which includes the far superior but less glossy John Sayles’ Return of the Secaucus.

The scenario, written by Kasdan and Benedek directly for the screen, depicts the gathering of a clique of college friends who used to be politically radical in the 1960s but have become bourgeois as they reach young middle-age.

Our grade: B- (** out of *****)

The meeting takes place at the house of the happily married physician Sarah (Glenn Close) and her hubby Harold (Kevin Kline), a successful sneakers mogul, and includes Nick (William Hurt), a troubled Vietnam vet, Sam (Tom Berenger), a minor TV star, and the chatty Michael (Jeff Goldblum). The occasion for the gathering is the funeral of their close friend, who committed suicide (but is never seen in the film).

In the first scene, there is a montage of the main protagonists: Sarah is seen in the bathroom naked and sobbing (we don’t know yet why); Michael claims that the secret to journalism is writing a piece that’s no longer than the average person can read and finish in a taxi cab.

Nick sniffs cocaine by himself, while the drunk Meg Jones hits on Nick, claiming “all I want is a little warmth.” His colder response: “Did I tell you what happened to me in Vietnam?”

Over a weekend of eating and drinking, socializing and arguing, we learn about the problems and foibles of each clique member, such as Meg (Mary Kay Place), who, under the pressure of the biological clock, announces that she wants to have a baby, now! Meg goes around, asking all the men in the house if they will do the honors, until Sarah volunteers her very husband for the act.

To increase the dramatic tension, which is minimal, and to enhance the generational angle, Kasdan has cast the young Meg Tilly (sister of Jennifer) as Chloe, an attractive twentysomething woman, who dated the dead man, and lacks the morals and values of her elders.

A zeitgeist film, more significant sociologically than artistically, “The Big Chill” captures with accuracy the concerns and moods of the Baby Boom Generation, as it reached late 30s. Realizing that his film is rather familiar and shallow, helmer Kasdan, who co-wrote the script with Barbara Benedek, relies on the strong ensemble actingand popular rock and soul tunes of the 1970s and early 1980s.

The movie is slick and entertaining, but also shallow and schematic.  Moreover, it’s hard not to notice that every dialogues scene ends with a strong punch line, serving like exclamation mark.

In the future, when social historians would be interested to dissect the emergence of a new character type, the Yuppie, they would benefit from examining this picture, which was quite popular.

Thematically, the film bears strong resemblance to John Sayles’ feature directorial debut, the far superior if also done on a more modest scale, “Return of the Secaucus Seven,” made in 1979.

“The Big Chill” was chosen to open the 1983 New York Film Festival.

Oscar nominations: 3

Picture, produced by Michael Shamberg
Screenplay (Original): Lawrence Kasdan, Barbara Benedek
Supporting Actress: Glenn Close

Oscar awards: None

Oscar Context

One of the weakest years in Oscar’s history.  The most nominated film in 1983, “Terms of Endearment,” received five Oscars out of its 11 nominations. It’s one of the few films in the Academy’s history, in which two actresses, Shirley MacLaine and Debra Winger, were nominated in the lead category; other films include “All About Eve” (Bette Davis and Anne Baxter) and “The Turning Point,” also with MacLaine (and Anne Bancroft).

The other major competitor was Philip Kaufman’s action-adventure “The Right Stuff,” which won four technical wards out of its 8 nominations.

Two smaller, more intimate dramas, rounded out the Best Picture contest: “The Dresser” and “Tender Mercies.”


Tom Berenger as Sam Weber
Glenn Close as Sarah Cooper
Jeff Goldblum as Michael Gold
William Hurt as Nick Carlton
Kevin Kline as Harold Cooper
Mary Kay Place as Meg Jones
Meg Tilly as Chloe
JoBeth Williams as Karen Bowens
Don Galloway as Richard Bowens
James Gillis as minister
Ken Place as Peter the cop