For the record, I would like to preface this post by saying that I loved the film this post alludes to. I loved it when I was young and it came out on VHS. My friends and I excitedly watched it carefully deciding who would end up being who in real life amongst our group.
St.Elmo’s Fire was released in 1985, neatly sandwiched in the middle of that classic John Hughes tryptich of teenage growing pains that was Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985), and Pretty in Pink (1986). But St. Elmo’s Fire was different for those of us growing up in the ’80s. First off, this film wasn’t even directed by John Hughes, it was directed by Joel Schumacher. This wasn’t high school, this was fresh out of Georgetown University fodder. This was John Hughes for grown ups. I recall seeing it after 1987 or maybe 1988, probably because it had a higher parental guidance rating. Whatever the reason, I think it actually benefitted my friends and I to see it after the high school films, even though we weren’t even in high school yet!
We were already familiar with the term Brat Pack because two films, The Breakfast Club and St.Elmo’s Fire, came to define the main casts with that media label which dogged them forevermore. I would also argue that any teenager, millennial or beyond are doing themselves a disservice if they think any of the aforementioned films don’t deserve a viewing or dismiss them as dinosaurs from quainter times. I assure you, they are all still relevant today, the feelings are universal and I wholeheartedly recommend you see them. They are not without their faults though.
The reason I decided to post about St.Elmo’s Fire today was because I watched it (again) yesterday with my husband who was a first time viewer. He scoffed and said he suffered through watching it because he knew I wasn’t going to let up on making him see it.
A few things startled me on this most recent watch. No, it wasn’t the horrific ’80s fashion (here’s looking at you Mare Winningham looking like Strawberry Shortcake goes to University; or, stop the scrunchie crossed with a crimping iron Demi Moore). It goes without saying the ‘post grad’ apartments were hilariously over the top. Jules (Demi Moore) has her apartment painted in vivid pink, complete with a neon light accented entire wall sized mural of Billy Idol. Alec (Judd Nelson) and Leslie (Ally Sheedy) have an impossibly huge warehouse sized loft style apartment I doubt anyone fresh out of university could afford. Kevin (Andrew McCarthy, he of the ‘glazed over stare’ method of acting) has a coffin for a coffee table. The list goes on. None of it seems readily plausible. Fun to watch, but not relatable. All set to a saxophone heavy soundtrack, an ’80s hallmark if there ever was.
Then there is Billy, fleshed out by Rob Lowe. If there was a prettier face in the ’80s I’m not sure who it was, and can we just digress for a moment to say that this man has NOT AGED??? The perpetual screw up, the one who misses being the king of the frat boys and misses school because it meant not having to be responsible and hold down a job. Billy plays mind games with Wendy (Mare Winningham) who dresses like Holly Hobby come to life; all headbands and lacy round neck collars, mid calf length skirts and a sensible bob. Wendy has been in love with Billy the bad boy, but never stood a chance because he’s a stone cold fox of a heartbreaker with a heart of gold. She’s the frump in this cool gang wearing granny style thigh length undergarment shapewear who reveals she is still a virgin and is a wealthy Daddy’s girl desperate to strike out on her own and get her own place with her own money.
Emilio Estevez plays his typical character, a jumped up American jock, this time called Kirby. Hellbent on impressing a doctor he had one date with in university who barely remembers him once he inadvertently bumps into her. Relighting his fire, he makes it his mission to make her his girl, with cringeworthy results. All I’ll say is never chase someone hoping for love who you know went skiing with someone else, and stayed at a cabin late at night expecting a positive outcome.
The moment I had to sort of chuckle this time around though, was when Jules has a breakdown, brought on by too many drug fuelled nights, being broke and having her apartment contents repossessed and whose lies finally catch up with her. When she sighs to Billy, “I just never thought I’d be so tired at 22 years old.”, rocking in place with the windows open to the winter cold, I have to wonder and I have to laugh. They’ve barely been out of school for a year. I didn’t see that much drama in the film besides a group of friends who stay out too late for people that have jobs in the real world, and who seem to be able to miraculously coordinate group outings for seven individuals with nary a scheduling conflict on an almost daily basis.
It’s not exactly a case study of those who live fast and barely avoid dying young, although it sort of wants to be (that film, my friends, would be two years later in the form of Less Than Zero). St.Elmo’s Fire is kind of a cautionary tale about expecting your life to be completely adult the moment you graduate. That’s not reality. You have to find your feet, and many of us don’t find them for a few years and spend that hinterland just surviving and hoping we figure shit out.
Most of the cast have gone on to considerable success, notably Mare Winningham the shy nerd of the group being the only one to have been Oscar Nominated in 1996 for Georgia. Demi Moore and Rob Lowe have endured on both the big and small screen. St.Elmo’s Fire is an ’80s stalwart that has aged in its decade stylings like all things over time do, and perhaps wanted to be a more important film that it actually is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth being a guilty pleasure jam packed with pure nostalgia.
What I would like to know, more importantly, is what does Rob Lowe know about the fountain of youth that nobody else does? I’ll have what he’s having.
Fun Fact Post Script: I attended a Journey concert with one of my best friends Tanna, and the opening act was John Parr. After he finished, we went to the lobby for drinks, and because Journey just started the lobby was empty. Except for one man. John Parr was sat at the bar and Tanna approached him to say hello. We had a chit chat for a while and he was very friendly. So I have additional affinity for this film because we had a drink with the man who wrote ‘Man in Motion’ which was the key hit off the soundtrack. Did you also know he wrote ‘The Best a Man Can Get’, yes, the song Gillette paid an awful lot of money for the rights to? And yes, Journey rocked.