Burning up, don’t know just how far that I can go
Soon be home, only just a few miles down the road
I can make it, I know, I can
You broke the boy in me but you won’t break the man
John Parr – St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion)
If you think the film would aspire to be as inspirational as these lyrics (from the film own main theme) you are out of luck. The film own theme by John Parr tells a far more compelling story about a man in a wheelchair going the distance in four minutes than the film ever does in one hour and fifty minute. Not only that, but the theme song by John Parr has virtually no connection to the actual film content. In the film itself St. Elmo is the name of a bar so does it catch on fire? Nope it doesn’t nor does it have any metaphorical meaning. Towards the end of the film a character by the name of Billy (played by Rob Lowe), telling Jules (played by Demi Moore) a story about the origin of St. Elmo’s Fire and it’s a story about sailors. In plain terms, it’s a weather phenomenon usually triggered by a corona discharge (an electrical discharge) from a sharp or pointed object creating an electrical atmosphere around said object. A fact that is more fascinating than the film actual content.
St. Elmo’s Fire is about a group of friends, just out of college, struggling with adulthood. I can’t say all young adults face this same issue, but I am one of them who’s able to connect to with the film on this level. Minus the financial cost since nowhere in the film do any of the characters ever struggle financially until a contrivance in the last act of the film. In general, the problem is no matter how much or lack of connection you can make to any of the characters is the entire film is uneven. The opening scene for instance starts by showing our characters walking happily together on campus after their graduation to then suddenly fast forward a unknown length of time into a hospital. This is a complete one-eighty in the first minutes of the film. There’s nothing before this besides a opening credit which doesn’t show the gang during their classes or having a fun time. Something simple as pictures of the gang bonding together would have quickly gotten across the idea these now young adults have to face the real world together. So what happens after the transition to the hospital? Well the non-stop expository dialogue that occupied the first fifth-teen minutes of the film paints a poor impression of the characters. We’re introduced to Billy by learning he was drinking and driving Wendy’s car, totaling the car and injuring Wendy (played by Mare Winningham) in the process. This incident has no repercussion on the plot, and Billy is allowed to go out to St. Elmo Bar for a drink with his friends after immediately driving drunk in a accident.
After that absent of reality the rest of the film never is able to follow up on interesting traits for it cast of characters. For example, Kevin Dolenz (played by Andrew McCarthy) is inspiring writer who is presented with an issue on his sexuality. In particular whether or not Kevin has feeling for his friend Alec (played by Jed Nelson) because all of Kevin friends assume he’s gay. Early on in the film it presented as if the film might tackle the subject of sexuality with Kevin which would have made up for his awful dialogue. Whenever characters speak there are some cringe-worthy lines of dialogue, but in particular whenever Kevin Dolenz speaks it’s a more frequent occurrence. He speaks like an artist who thinks just too highly of himself. Hm, oddly enough this was also the most relatable character for me. Yet, when he talks you just want to punch him. How exactly does he speak? Here’s a couple of his lines.
Kirby: It’s true love, my friend.
Kevin: Love, love, you know what love is? Love is an illusion created by lawyer types like yourself to perpetuate another illusion called marriage to create the reality of divorce and then the illusionary need for divorce lawyers.
Kevin: You know there are more people in law school right now than there are lawyers on the entire planet? Think about that.
Jules: Don’t you enjoy anything anymore… like girls?
Kevmin: I enjoy being afraid of Russia. It’s a harmless fear, but it makes America feel better, Russia gets an inflated sense of national worth from our paranoia. How’s that?
Kevin: Marriage is a concept invented by people who were lucky to make it to 20 without being eaten by dinosaurs. Marriage is obsolete.
Alec: Dinosaurs are obsolete. Marriage is still around.
This sort of dialogue is common throughout the film, but back to discussing Kevin Dolenz. His struggle for writing, and getting recognition in that field is something I can easily relate too. However, the film fails to use his hobby to get across anything about writing. It only amounts to Kevin gaining inspiration from the girl he loves, Leslie (Ally Sheedy), when she returns mutual feelings towards him. Nowhere throughout the film when Leslie isn’t in Kevin life as a lover does Kevin do much writing nor does he use it as an outlet for the audience to see Kevin express himself.
Alongside having a pointless hobby that the audience rarely see Kevin perform he’s also part of a love triangle that does not resolve in any form. This love triangle is brought up in the second act of the film since in the first act it misleads audience that Kevin is possibly gay. Introducing first in this love triangle is young Republican hotshot scumbag lawyer Alec. Next up is Leslie who’s been in a longterm relationship with Alec whose reluctance to get married is never given any convincing reason as to why she’s so opposed to getting married. Finally, their mutual friend is Kevin, who everyone thinks is gay. What no one knows is that he’s not actually gay; he’s in love with Leslie! So the subplot of Kevin being gay goes nowhere as his hobby on writing, but here’s a subplot that could have worked. Unfortunately, Alec, who is an adulterer perilously close to being a pure sociopath. Not only that, but after Kevin confesses his feelings towards Leslie they have sex and within that same sex scene are committing love on top of a coffin. Why does a college graduate have a coffin and why does Kevin think it’ll work as a babe magnet is about as questionable as the film claims that these people graduated from college.
Towards the end of the film when the three confront each other Leslie simply says she’ll get off dating for a while and for all of them to remain friends. The issue with this resolution is that these three are never shown acting like friends. So the strength of their friendship doesn’t come across as clearly intended. This isn’t the only shortcoming in the film. The entire writing is clueless as to exactly where to take the story. It’s main cast consist of seven characters all of whom don’t get equal attention. It’s very noticeable when characters who don’t appear for half an hour suddenly making an appearance in the background. The writers took up more than they could handle with this large cast. Each of which have traits that could be fully explored like Billy who’s a deadbeat dad, Kirby (played by Emilio Estevez) who has an unhealthy obsession to a woman he barely talks too, or Jules turning taking the easy route in life. These traits if fully developed could have created compelling characters. However, due to the story jumping from character to character every single one of them end up leaving a negative impression.
Billy, the mention deadbeat father has a confusing story arc with no resolution. He’s given no redeemable traits in the long scheme of things as not only does he virtually learns nothing about being an adult, but retains his floundering attitude on life. His only acceptance to reality is accepting the fact he won’t see his child, and his estrange wife again because it’s not what they deserved according to him. If Billy is going to support his child in some form or attempt to apologize to his estrange wife due to his behaviors are unclear. Despite the film attempt to paint Billy in a positive light there’s one scene that solidified what a scumbag he is. In one scene after a party, Billy tries to get his other friend Jules to go down on him by putting her car keys down his pants (“Come and get ‘em.” Billy says). She kicks him out of her car and tells him she really needed a friend. His response? “Get back in the jeep, and assume the missionary position.”
With that bad taste in your mouth the other characters won’t wash them out. Kirby’s arc has a disturbing optimism on stalking. Kirby is infatuated with a woman who he dated once years ago and barely seen talking to her. Whatever form of intended charm he was meant to have turns into creepiness as he has a great detailed memory if it involved the woman he’s obsessed, smells her pillow, and in one scene follows her. At no point does the film challenge Kirby disillusion between what he believes is love versus being a stalker. Yet, the person Kirby stalks has no issue with this claiming it’s might be her loss at some point in her life.
Now you’re notice another issue with this review, where are the discussion on women characters? Well I can’t go much detail into them since the women characters have little to do in the film besides being the affections of males. Including the best female character Wendy Beamish who’s the most responsible out of the cast is relegated to an arc of losing her virginity to her lover. Yes, in a cast filled with seven characters the best female character among them is simply one who’s responsible, but her arc revolve around losing her virginity. Equality, ain’t I right?
The technical aspects aren’t worth bringing up. Cinematography is simply well shot with the exception of the first person stalker in one scene. I inserted in John Carpenter Halloween (Michael Myers) theme during the first person shot, and it strangely fit. Actually, whenever Emilio Estevez is in a scene that revolving around his crush it fits him perfectly. Another aspect I do want bring up is the climax. So, in the “climax” that’s convoluted the character Jules is in a empty room with windows open. Her friends want to help her, but won’t open the door. When an interior shot is shown of this room; it’s an image of an empty room with open windows, and it’s cold so the characters naturally come to conclusion Jules is trying freeze herself to death simply because some windows are open. There’s no question mark to that last sentence that’s literally what director Joel Schumacher chose to do in order create tension in the climax. He is also listed as a writer of the script along with another screenwriter in the credits so he holds half of the responsibility for this extremely goofy “climax”.
In the acting department you got a main cast consisting of Emilio Estevez, Rob Lowe, Andrew McCarthy, Demi Moore, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, and Mare Winningham. Our main cast performances is average bringing more attention to the awful dialogue. None of the cast member deliver a good performance due to their narrow characters. Emilio Estevez plays Kirby Keger and is the least interactive with the other cast members putting in a performance appropriate for a horror movie. Instead of making his crush seem innocent Estevez instead pushes his role into creeper territory with his menacing stares usually delivery dialogue in a loud voice. Estevez takes his portrayal seriously so speaking in a serious manner, except when involving his crush where he has to display some joy. Like, the instance he smiles when talking to costar Andrew McCarthy about stealing his crush work schedule. If Estevez was playing a stalker in horror movie his portrayal would have fit just fine, but in this film where it clearly wants his character to be seen as a hopeless romantic it gives off an unpleasantness thinking stalking is equal to true love.
Rob Lowe plays Billy Hicks who is easily the worst character in the film. Lowe performance is bad in the sense he never disappears into the character. He is convincing in some scenes where he has to display the acceptance of his struggling life, but is unable to overcome bad writing. For instance, he’s meant to play a dead father, and unfortunately for Rob Lowe he didn’t have the range to bring to life a complicated character or the fullest of conviction to sell his personality. From the very beginning to the very end his performance does not show any change. Then there’s Andrew McCarthy who does okay. He’s not convincing in his dramatic scenes due to his lack of emoting in these scenes operating on autopilot. McCarthy is good when showing his character more playful side. It’s unfortunate McCarthy has plenty of terrible lines. However, his delivering of his awful lines makes them that much better to poke fun off. Judd Nelson plays Alec Newbary who’s only meant to be dislikable. Nelson doesn’t get much range to display besides anger, or desiring sex. It’s a role that doesn’t offer enough meat for an actor.
The women of the cast suffer similar problems, though not to the same degree. Ally Sheedy benefits most from her large amount of screen time comfortable settling into her character. She shows a natural change in her personality from the beginning of the film to the end. Sheedy has no one scene to make full use of her talent, but comes out unscathed from the writing unlike her costars. Demi Moore plays a character named Jules who ironically also suffers from a drug habit. Moore is simply in St. Elmo Fire to look beautiful which she succeeds in. Like Judd Nelson, Demi Moore role doesn’t much meat to the character resulting in a narrow performance. Finally comes Mare Winningham who has to display giggling and being upset when being questioned about her virginity. Winningham comes across as a pouting adult who refuses to accept her reality. That’s about it on her performance. Mare Winningham easily got the worst role out of any of the cast member being offer little traits and little screen time. She could have been written out of the movie which further strengthen her pointless inclusion.
The soundtrack to St. Elmo’s Fire is very cheesy. Dated, and rotten kind of cheese not the kind you could laugh at. Easily the best song in the soundtrack is John Parr St. Elmo’s Fire (Man In Motion) which I already mentioned tells a far more compelling story. Parr’s song is completely unrelated to anything that occurs in the film. However, the film cheesy instrumental is use for a good purpose to inspire, and considering his song is about a man in a wheelchair basically going the distance it’s a good song to listen too on its own. Whenever you hear St. Elmo’s Fire in the background it’s a highlight, but those moments only occurs twice and misued twice in the film. Also, it must be addressed that during the closing credits I spotted a listing for stunt double. There are no dangerous stunts in the film, and the most life threatening scene is one character simply shoving another character to the floor. That’s about as life threatening as it gets. There’s also a scene where one character is consider letting his friends go off ledge, but due to the close ups it’s makes it a fact the actors are doing this scene themselves. So, since I like to make up stuff spontaneously I award St. Elmo’s Fire the “Most Pointless Use of A Stunt Double” award from me.
St. Elmo’s Fire wanders around aimlessly for its entire duration not providing engaging characters or satisfactory story arcs for those characters. Simply giving characters some relatable traits that a viewer(s) can connect too doesn’t hide the weak writing. A character and their story should be able to engage the viewer(s) regardless if they can make a personal connection to what’s unfolding on screen. The cast isn’t talented enough to rise the material above its actual quality making its cringe-worthy dialogue that much more noticeable. This film’s ideas could have weave together a challenging film on the subject of becoming an adult with its different types of characters pursuing different interests, but the only thing St. Elmo’s Fire will be burning in me as well as those who dare to witness St. Elmo’s Fire will be hatred that won’t be extinguished.