Outside of the In-Crowd – Regretful Adoration Theater: St. Elmo’s Fire

Courtney Enlow

Courtney Enlow

Remember the first time you had a Twinkie? You tasted the cake and filling and thought, “This is delicious. I simply must eat 10 more.” Then as you got older and your tastes changed, you still carried this memory of your magical Twinkie experience. Then you finally eat a Twinkie for the first time in years, and you realize, “This tastes like animal offal and homeless man skin oil.” And you immediately regret ever loving it.

Movies are a lot like Twinkies.

We all have movies in our past that we once loved and now loathe with great guilt and the humiliation of a thousand wedgies. And so, as we enter summer, I have decided to revisit the movies that filled us with warmth and now fill us with acidic rage. And what better way to start it off than with the film that took an uplifting tune about the trials and tribulations of a paraplegic race winner and turned it into the theme song of seven major assholes?

St. Elmo’s Fire is the tale of seven college friends who are all whiny morons. The first time I saw this movie, I was maybe 14. I thought it was amazing, a veritable documentary of my imagined post-grad life, since every character basically had the same mindset I did at 14. It is now 11 years later, and I am three years older than the characters themselves, which I never really realized. I thought they were older. Actually they’re 22, merely four months out of college, and somehow Judd Nelson is a senator-in-training and Demi Moore is a professional banker and gala-attendee and everyone does something else unrealistic, except Emilio Estevez who is a waiter, which is the only career that makes any sense in this movie, but this is possibly because I went to art school.

The movie opens with Rob Lowe drunk driving Mare Winningham’s car into wreckage. Mare Winningham forgives him because she’s mildly-less attractive and wears glasses and he has fancy hair. The film gives us no reason why she would be so in love with him, or why anyone in the movie would be friends with him. He’s probably the most hateful character in a slew of hateful characters.

Quickly, we are introduced to the others: We have Kirby (Emilio Estevez) the waiter. He is a terrifying stalker whose creepy obsession with Andie MacDowell’s character is supposed to be endearing, I think. There’s the aforementioned resident dipshit Billy (Rob Lowe) who is useless and rapey, and cheats on his wife/mother of his child a lot. Jules (Demi Moore) is kind of slutty and a gold digger and does a lot of coke. Judd Nelson plays Alec, another cheater, working toward a career in politics and living with Ally Sheedy’s Leslie – who really has nothing else important to her character except that Andrew McCarthy’s in love with her – in the biggest apartment I’ve ever seen in my entire life. He wears tiny shorts and buys Ally Sheedy the longest negligee in the world. It’s basically a ballgown.

Then there’s Andrew McCarthy. He is dreamy. Ally Sheedy’s stupid for choosing Nostrils McGee over him all these years.

None of these people would be friends in real life.

They insist on greeting one another with their warcry, “Ah boogah, boogah, boogah, ah ah ah!” which is short for “Ah boogah, boogah, boogah, ah ah ah! One douchebag, two douchebags, three, four, five, six, seven douchebags, ah ah ah!” These people are alternately the youngest and oldest 22-year-olds I’ve ever seen. The entire blame for this falls upon one man, Joel Schumacher, who co-wrote and directs by shooting the entire movie as a series of dramatic close-ups. I did not need to see Judd Nelson’s pores in extreme full-screen view. They were very obviously written by someone who never actually went to college and had no concept of post-grad life.

If this were a realistic movie, all of these characters would have either been living at home or roommates in a $600 a month apartment, working as office assistants or baristas. Instead they are all completely boring. Even Jules’s nervous breakdown is boring, because she’s such a whiny simp, we just can’t care about her problems. Little gems of her abusive past are strewn throughout the movie, but they’re not enough to explain anything she does. Ultimately, what we realize is that each character is a spoiled rich kid who was handed a great life and is still unhappy. Actually, in my experience, that’s not wholly unrealistic.

The biggest thing they fucked over in this movie? The goddamn title. The big speech at the end, wherein Rob Lowe explains the meaning of St. Elmo and the fire, yeah, they got that all wrong.

“Jules, y’know, honey … this isn’t real. You know what it is? It’s St. Elmo’s Fire. Electric flashes of light that appear in dark skies out of nowhere. Sailors would guide entire journeys by it, but the joke was on them … there was no fire. There wasn’t even a St. Elmo. They made it up. They made it up because they thought they needed it to keep them going when times got tough, just like you’re making up all of this. We’re all going through this. It’s our time at the edge.”

    A) St. Elmo’s fire was real. It’s an electrical phenomenon.
    B) It was not in the sky, rather around the ship’s mast.
    C) St. Elmo was real – it’s the nickname for two Catholic saints.

If you’re going to name your movie after something, have the decency to research it. That said, I am to understand they didn’t have Wikipedia in 1985.

The film leaves us with many questions. Who are we now, and who will we become as we get older? Is it possible to stay the same, or do we lose ourselves with our youth? And, most importantly, just why did Hollywood try to convince us for so long that Andie MacDowell was in any way desirable? Seriously. A solid 10 year chunk of cinematic history was spent attempting to make this extraordinarily plain woman be seen as the lead character’s idea of the most beautiful, interesting woman on the planet. She looks mildly like a Muppet.

St. Elmo’s Fire is a bad movie, but a lovely, cathartic reminder of how whiny and self-absorbed we all were in high school (even though the characters were all technically adults). I give it two out of five Twinkies.

Courtney Enlow is a writer living in Chicago and working as a corporate shill to pay the bills. You can contact her at courtney@hobotrashcan.com.

  1. renni June 1, 2010
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