The Big Chill: An Air-conditioned Comedy of Values

July 9, 2014
I have done a number of reviews of books, plays and films over the years. Early on, I read somewhere that a good review always includes at least one thing that is positive about what you are reviewing and at least one thing that is negative or could be improved.

In the final analysis, though, a reviewer, like everyone else has her or his subjective preferences about whether something is good or not. We are not carbon copies of each other. In my 20s, I was quite acid tongued about my own preferences; what I liked and didn’t like than I am in my more mellow 50s.

The following is a movie review I did on The Big Chillwhich was ‘the’ film about what was going on for women (and men) in the late 1970s and early 1980s (in those ancient days when a movie theatre film cost $4.00). For the record, one of my sisters became a doctor during this time period and I, in the late 1980s, became a single parent-by-choice.

September 1983
The Big Chill: An Air-conditioned Comedy of Values
by Tanya Lester

Comlumbia Pictures’ The Big Chill is the type of movie that you should wait for. Wait for it to appear in your TV guide listings.

The Big Chillwould get top ratings over the mediocre commercial film fare of the tube but it is not worth paying the $4.00 plus to see in a movie theatre.

But then again it depends on who you are and on what basis you are willing to judge this film. If you judge it from a strictly feminist perspective, you might be prone to compare it to a pig with gastritis as one woman who attended the promotional screening did.

And, as reflects the variety of people in the women’s movement, other feminists who went to the screening thought it was good and even “wonderful”. It was funny, they and I, too, said. It was a break from leaving a movie theatre in a state of deep depression.

Another said it would appeal to young middle class professionals. That’s who the film is about. It is a look at the people who were the products of the baby-boom. They were the student radicals of the ’60’s and are the quasi-conformists of the ’80’s. Backed up by vintage ‘6o’s rock soundtrack, the film’s characters are drawn together by the big chill — the suicide and funeral of one of their mutual friends.

Among this group of old friends are three women. Meg is a lawyer, Sarah is a doctor and Karen had once attempted to be a writer but opted instead for the security of wife and mother.

Meg made it in her male dominated profession and has almost come to the conclusion that she might never want to get married. She does want a baby, though, and she has decided to use one of the men in the gathering as a stud.

Sarah looks quite horrified when this decision is announced. The setting for this film segment is in the kitchen of the doctor’s house. The two women are preparing apple pies and turkey for supper while they discuss the ‘ins’ and ‘outs’ of how to become a single mother. The men are off — well, you know — doing manly things.

Karen is busy trying to sort out her own problems. She is absolutely bored with her life of being a good wife and mother. Karen is living with a man who, she admits, would not make love with another woman because he would be afraid of getting herpes.

Apparently, her solution for this problem would be to find another man who better shares her own dreams and passions for life. She offers herself to one of the old friends who a Tom Selleck-type television star. He rejects her as a permanent partner. In the end, it is clean that Karen will return to her husband. She does not come to the realization that she could leave her husband without having another man lined up as a replacement, instead defining her life and status through men.

There is another woman in the film, Chloe, who is the lover left behind by the suicide victim. She suffers from no illusions about society as the others seem to. She says that she does not feel the need to talk as the friends do. In other words, she does not admit to digging inside to examine her feelings and her life.

By the film’s end, Chloe has found a replacement for her dead friend among his old friends. Her life, too, is defined by being an extension of a man. I found Chloe to be the most unsettling of all the women characters. Because, in the cases of the older women, they were young and most impressionable when the feminist movement was just beginning its revival. But this young woman is part of the 1980’s. The women’s movement should have helped her develop a different role in society.

Although we have to admit that all the women in this movie are similar to some of the women we know, it would be absurd to think that Columbia Pictures has a handle on how women should be portrayed to reflect the women’s movement impact on society. Nor does the film highlight the women’s roles which are played by Glenn Close, Mary Kay Place, Meg Tilly, and Jobeth Willimas. The male characters, too, get equal time to struggle with their internal conflicts.

The Big Chill is an air-conditioned comedy of values. It is a laught at the shortcomings of our society which should make the film very comfortable to take for most people. It will be a prime-time hit when it ends up on television.

Until, then, I suggest only going to see it if a friend calls you up and feels like going to see something that won’t make her feel depressed. Just don’t get your expectations up too high.

To read the earlier posts on this blog, go to

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Confessions of a Tea Leaf Reader by Tanya Lester can be purchased from her or you are go to to read its first pages and buy it.


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