St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) Review

I have completely missed the popularity of certain 80’s films. I’m going to make a confession – I’ve never seen Sixteen Candles or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I have seen the Breakfast Club and it was ok, not exactly the classic that a lot of people say it is, but it doesn’t feel like it was made for me.

None of these types of films do. The people who grew up in the 80’s seem to have an affinity with the characters, who are mostly coming of age or rebelling, and feel like the film is reflective of their lives in some way. Speaking to them because they are going through the same things.

I just didn’t have any experiences like these characters seem to.

I never got that. I went to a British school, which means the high school in Breakfast Club doesn’t exactly resonate with me. St. Elmo’s Fire strikes me as a film that is supposed to appeal to people in their late twenties, leaving their youth behind and discovering what it means to be an adult. Except, it wasn’t my experience.

These films feel like they are trying too hard to capture people’s experiences, tap into what it was like for them or even better, the experience they are having as they watch the film. Unfortunately, this never really fits because the experiences are always slightly too extreme. In the case of St. Elmo’s Fire, it becomes a love triangle drama, saving one of the friends caught in a downward spiral and realisation of another character that their party lifestyle is catching up with them.

Other films and tv shows have done what St Elmo’s Fire is trying to do but better.

It all makes sense, and makes for a decent enough film, but it’s not exactly anything we haven’t seen before. It’s also not something that most people actually go through. There are some parts of the film that do resonate, the realisation that your life isn’t quite mapping out as you planned as a kid, the growing apart of friends and the letting go of your youth, but it’s surrounded by amplified drama.

The problem was that it felt like it had been done better by other films, or more specifically, a certain sitcom that lasted for ten years. I watched St. Elmo’s Fire thinking that what they have crammed into two hours has been done in a much better way by the sitcom Friends, because it had the time to really develop the characters properly. The issue you get with a film is that the characters, who are supposed to be “coming of age” don’t actually grow-up that much over the running time of the film.

It’s strange to see some of these actors all grown-up, especially knowing what kind of actors they will become.

Which is quite strange because the actors we are watching have grown-up. It’s surreal how diverse the actors are and how different they feel to their present-day selves. Rob Lowe looks strange as a party-animal tear away, Demi Moore as the “it-girl” also doesn’t seem to fit either. Other’s sit perfectly, Emilio Estevez already seeming to find his “sensible, down-to-earth” persona that he would make slightly more famous. The cast as a whole does a very good job.

I feel like I’m being harsh on St. Elmo’s Fire but I really expected more. I had read enough about the film, its cast and it being quintessentially 80s, that I thought I was going to see a classic. Instead it felt like a film trying to hard too relate to me or speak to me about “growing-up.”

Overall, not being a teenager or twentysomething of the 80s, I think that film nostalgia has passed me by. The film is good at some aspects, particularly the characters struggling to come to terms with getting older, but this is lost in some of the over-exaggerated drama that just doesn’t happen to anyone “average.” Now I’ve just got to find Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Rating 2

(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)

Maybe you have to be of a certain age or of a certain era to really appreciate what St. Elmo’s Fire is trying to do
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4 thoughts on “St. Elmo’s Fire (1985) Review

  1. Bit late to the party here but… “The problem was that it felt like it had been done better by other films, or more specifically, a certain sitcom that lasted for ten years. I watched St. Elmo’s Fire thinking that what they have crammed into two hours has been done in a much better way by the sitcom Friends, because it had the time to really develop the characters properly. ”

    St Elmo’s Fire came out 9 years before Friends was first broadcast. Also, as you quite rightly state, Friends had the time to develop characters over 10 years.

    The statement – “.. has been done in a much better way by the sitcom friends.. ” well that’s just not cricket. It’s a bit unfair to compare this film to works that hadn’t yet been created at the time. That’s like saying the DVD is a crappy format because in 10 years they’ll invent Blu-Ray.

    Films are of a time, of an age. They reflect not only the content, but also the time they we’re created and that’s part of the beauty. Watch Blade Runner and tell me that the wooden models are not utterly perfect for that film, and that a CGI update would be just the worst thing that could ever happen to that movie. (actually thats a pet peeve of mine, I’m hoping for a bigger CGI backlash soon, and a return to proper stunts, actual models etc – See Christopher Nolan for example).

    I am a child of the 80’s and you might think I’m a rabid St Elmo’s Fire fan but actually I’m not, it bored me mainly but I realise that it did capture the zeitgeist of the time, and a significant proportion of a generation could relate to the characters and stories in that film. The location and setting was largely irrelevant.

    Your comments regarding the Breakfast Club – and how you can’t really relate because you didn’t go to School in the 80’s, in America? Well that’s going to be tough for you. I enjoyed The Last Samurai immensely, even though I didn’t grow up in Feudal Japan.

    I have no problem with you not liking a film, but you do a disservice to yourself and readers if you don’t enjoy them because of your preconceptions and environment.

    “Maybe you have to be of a certain age or of a certain era to really appreciate what St. Elmo’s Fire is trying to do”. It’s not really trying to do very much, it just *is*.

    Oh and you haven’t see Ferris Buellers day off? That’s just plain wrong.

    1. I think whatever we watch and how we watch it will always be affected by preconceptions and environment. It will always be affected by whether we can relate to the characters, whether we have a vested interest in the material or story or whether we have enjoyed other types of movies/tv show that are similar to what we are watching.

      I compared it to Friends because that was a show similar to what I believe St. Elmos Fire was about. Maybe it is unfair to compare the two but what I was actually doing was saying that you need much more than just two hours to get invested in characters like these enough to engage with the movie. I didn’t care enough about them so anything they went through didn’t resonate with me. I used Friends because that was the perfect juxtaposition to this movie and helped explain my point.

      I also think that certain films do require you to have had some experience to enjoy them. Not Transformers, Independence Day or even something based in history, like The Last Samurai, but a movie that was written and marketed (and has since been placed in movie history) as a film that appeals to the people growing up at the time it was released, The Breakfast Club benefits from being viewed by an audience that can empathise with the characters. Its a subtle, coming-of-age, drama so comparing it to an epic like The Last Samurai is ignoring the different genres and the styles/experiences they bring.

      Also, I believe every film is “trying to do something.” Trying to convey a certain message, evoke an emotion or opinion or just plain entertain. Films wouldn’t be popular if they just “were. (is)”

      Incidentally, still haven’t seen Ferris Buellers Day Off…

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