Is The Big Chill the best ‘friends-reuniting’ movie of all-time?

In a potential low point for me, I watched the above movie — alternatively titled The Wedding Weekend or Shut Up And Sing — on Amazon Prime Video a couple of nights ago. Basic plot is that the guy from Royal Pains on USA Network gets married and his friends (who include one of the guys from The Newsroom and a guy from The Exes) along with their wives (the mom from Twilight and Molly Shannon from SNL, among others) gather in the Hamptons for said wedding. It’s 15 years since they graduated. Dramatic and sexual things happen. You’ve seen this motif before.

A couple of days before that, via Netflix, I re-watched this gem:

In that one, an approaching middle-age Timothy Hutton (from Ordinary People and later Leverage) flirts with Natalie Portman, who in that movie looks about 12 and is now an Oscar-winning mother. Odd times. Cool thing, though: although Beautiful Girls is supposed to be in a town in MA, it was actually entirely filmed in Minneapolis and Stillwater. Regardless, it’s another “old-friends-reunite-and-dramatic-things-happen’ genre film. So of course, people sing and dance and drink:

I was trying to objectively figure out what the best ‘friends-reuniting-after-so-many-years’ genre pic ever is. The two above aren’t really contenders — Beautiful Girls may be on the fringes of the discussion, but Shut Up And Sing is definitely not — but I honestly think it’s probably a one-horse race, that horse being The Big Chill.

“It’s about everything: suicide, despair, where did our hope go…”

First off, The Big Chill might have one of the best movie soundtracks of the 1980s, and that’s saying a lot. Couple of style points there.

Secondly, they all reunited last year at the Toronto Film Festival — 30 years after they won an award there — and they were the stars of the whole thing. That’s resonance.

Third off, people have been clamoring for video of Kevin Costner as Alex (the suicide that sets the whole thing in motion) for three decades, and all we’ve gotten are still photos from production. There’s a touch of drama.

Surprisingly, the movie is only a 68 on Rotten Tomatoes (79 audience), but some believe it ‘ruined movies for a generation,’ so that could be an issue here.

Now, in terms of other movies that could possibly compete with The Big Chill in this ‘friends-coming-together’ genre, I can think of maybe one or two. There’s Peter’s Friends, which has some high-quality actors in it:

There’s It’s Always Fair Weather, to take this back to the 1950s:

There’s Return of the Seacaucus Seven:

(Some believe that John Sayles’ movie actually inspired The Big Chill, although that’s been debunked over time.)

There’s also Best Man’s Holiday:

There’s a million and one “high school reunion” involved movies, including Grosse Pointe Blank (a classic), Peggy Sue Got Married (ditto), 10 YearsGrown Ups, etc. I’m not including those here because, with the exception of perhaps Grown Ups, they’re not really about groups of people reconnecting after time — and also, they’re not typically very dramatic.

My mom used to tell me that The Big Chill was one of her favorite movies, so I suppose there’s a bit of nostalgia on this list, to be sure. But I think it does top the narrow genre — and I think it’s an important thing to think about, because as you get older, those weekends can get more and more rare, so watching a film like any of the above can conjure up a lot of emotions (or even spur you into action to try and set something up). When you’re in the zone where mostly you’re seeing friends at weddings and periodically at a tragic funeral, these movies can have a deeper emotional connection than some of the more amazing Oscar winners; that’s why ranking ’em, or at least discussing ’em, felt potentially relevant right now.

Ted Bauer