The Big Chill is a 1983 dramedy film directed by Lawrence Kasdan and featuring a veritable Who's Who of '80s actors, including Tom Berenger, Glenn Close, Kevin Kline, Jeff Goldblum, William Hurt, Meg Tilly, and JoBeth Williams.
This is considered to be one of the finest films to show former Sixties campus liberals who, in The '80s, basically became yuppie establishment types, suffering the angst of entering middle age in the Reagan era while lampshading the fact that, as one of them puts it, "No one had a cushier berth than we did".
A group of people who knew each other as college students and friends during the 1960s end up getting back together some 15 years later after their friend Alex commits suicide. All of them have gone along their ways and now look back and wonder where their idealism went. Along the way, they renew their friendships, and sometimes even more, as they try to understand why Alex, with all of his potential, worked at menial jobs and then, for apparently no reason, decided to kill himself.
This film provides examples of:
- Bait-and-Switch Comment: When Sam is driving Chloe and Michael to the wake, they're both worried about how quiet Chloe is:Sam: You alright?Chloe: Yeah. I'm a little disappointed, though. I wanted to ride up there.Sam: Yeah. (Michael nods as well)Chloe: I always wanted to ride in a limo. (Michael and Sam look at each other)
- Because I Said So: Sarah says this on the phone to her daughter, and when she hangs up, she immediately tells Meg she can't believe she said that.
- Better Than Sex: According to Michael, rationalizations.Sam: Ah, come on. Nothing's more important than sex.Michael: Yeah? You ever gone a week without a rationalization?
- Bookends: The movie opens with Harold and Sarah's son singing the Three Dog Night song "Joy to the World" (more commonly known as "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog") and ends with the actual song being played.
- ...But I Play One on TV: In-Universe; in the opening credits of J.T. Lancer, we see Sam taking a running jump into his convertible, and landing perfectly in the seat. When the cop who pulls Nick over (see Corrupt Hick below) recognizes Sam, he offers to let the charge he's got against Nick slide if Sam will demonstrate that stunt for him; to everyone else's consternation, Sam agrees to do it. Naturally, since Sam is an actor and not a stuntman, he trips on the car door, falls, and hurts his arm (though not too badly).
- Chekhov's Gun: Sarah's bathrobe.
- Cloud Cuckoolander: Chloe.
- Corrupt Hick: Played with and subverted; Nick thinks the cop who pulled him over because he looks like a "Yankee drug dealer" is this, but he's willing to let the whole thing go when he recognizes Sam and asks him to recreate a stunt from his TV show (it doesn't go well). And then later, an angry Harold explains to Nick the cop had actually stopped the house from being broken into, and is a nice guy.
- Also, Nick is a "Yankee drug dealer".
- Deadpan Snarker: Mostly Michael and Nick, though Harold has his moments.Meg: The last time I spoke with Alex, we had a fight. I yelled at him.Nick: That's probably why he killed himself.
- Expy: J.T. Lancer, the character Sam plays on his TV show, seems a lot like Thomas Magnum, complete with Cool Car and Badass Mustache.
- Everybody Laughs Ending: After Michael's closing line to the movie.Michael: You see, Sarah, Harold, we took a secret vote. We're not leaving. We're never leaving.
- False Reassurance: Played for Laughs.Sam: In Hollywood, I don't know who to trust. I don't know who likes me or why they even do like me.Harold: Well, you don't have that problem here. (Sam smiles) You know I don't like you.Michael: Me neither.Meg: Ditto.Harold: So relax.Sam: Assholes!
- Good People Have Good Sex: Many of the characters end up having sex with each other. Meg has considered getting pregnant, so Sarah decides to lend Meg her husband, Harold, for this purpose (and also to balance the books for own infidelity years earlier).
- Gaussian Girl: To make sure we know that Karen is gorgeous, she's almost always in soft focus. Because JoBeth Williams needs so much help with that.
- Innocently Insensitive: At the wake, Meg and Sarah are watching Chloe laughing with others, and Sarah, clearly disapproving, comments, "His (Alex's) funeral, and she's stoned", unaware Meg is stoned, thanks to Nick.
- Insult to Rocks: When Sam mentions he plays video games to relax, Meg can't believe he would do something that moronic, to which Harold replies, "Hey; don't knock morons."
- It's Quiet... Too Quiet: Nick says this almost word for word when he, Harold and Sam are trying to chase the bat out of the attic.
- Longing Look: Karen and Sam have quite a few of these towards each other.
- Nothing but Hits: The soundtrack contains literally nothing but huge hits from the '60s, including numerous Motown tunes and other favorites such as Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising".
- Posthumous Character: Alex
- Pretty in Mink: Karen wears a couple of fur coats.
- Shell-Shocked Veteran: Nick
- Shout-Out: As Harold goes up towards the attic to slay a bat that's flown in, he hums the theme to Raiders of the Lost Ark, which Lawrence Kasdan co-wrote.
- Spiritual Successor: While there was a (short-lived) direct TV adaptation called Hometown, it could be argued that thirtysomething is a better example.
- The film itself could be seen as one of these to John Sayles' 1980 independent film Return of the Secaucus 7, which similarly depicts a group of former Sixties radicals reuniting in the same house over a weekend.
- Start to Corpse
- Starts with a Suicide: Alex's, before the opening credits. His funeral is what draws the whole cast together again after nearly 20 years.
- Stealth Pun: Harold's shoe shop is named "Running Dog". Doubles as a Take That Me, as it's Harold poking fun at his own capitalist aspirations.
- Too Good for This Sinful Earth: invoked by Harold in his eulogy for Alex.
- Too Much Information: When Nick and Sam are talking about their history with Karen:Nick: In the old days, I wasn't emotionally equipped to satisfy her. Now, as we all know, the equipment doesn't work at all.
Sam: Why do we have to talk about that?
- Unresolved Sexual Tension: Between Karen and Sam at least at first.
- Vitriolic Best Buds: A milder version here, but Sam does harbor resentment towards Michael because of an article Michael wrote that slammed him.
- Your Cheating Heart: Karen is married with children, and cheats on Richard with Sam despite the latter urging her not to leave the former. She decides to stay with Richard in the end, though. Sarah also cheated on Harold in the past.