The Big Chill

Last week, the Toronto International Film Festival celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Academy Award-winning film The Big Chill.

So did I. It is my favourite feel-good movie, with the best soundtrack ever. So I bunkered in for a solo movie night.

Usually, I watch this film when I feel melancholy. If the big chill of the cold world sets in my bones, I book a pity party for one and snuggle in for a reunion with the film’s iconic cast. 

When the Carpenter sees me reach for The Big Chill DVD, he assesses the situation on the following criteria: What kind of day has Kelly endured? Will she snap without provocation? Is there enough chip dip and ripple chips in the house to barricade her in front of the television? Or, is it a buttered popcorn kind of night, with popcorn cooked on a stove and real butter splashed on for good measure (I’ll have none of that artificial microwave stuff; I have standards)?

Whichever way it goes, the Carpenter is thrilled that this film does not require “together time.” Long gone are the date nights where we pretend to like the same genre of film. We don’t fake it anymore. And we don’t share our film snacks. This makes both of us happy.

There is something about the nostalgia of The Big Chill that resonates with me, about old friends who mark that sweet spot in our lives, then scatter in the wind. Maybe it’s the notion that life moves on, or the truth that real friends are only ever a phone call away. The characters are flawed yet intelligent, judgmental but forgiving. The plot reminds us that we can’t go backwards in time and that’s okay. As William Hurt’s character said, “I’m evolving. I’m always evolving.” Change is part of the deal.

I won’t say Jeff Goldblum’s character was my career inspiration, but he relays some sage advice that stuck with me: never write a story longer than the average person requires to have a – forgive me – crap (if you are reading this in the bathroom, hurry up). He has a point.

When the film first debuted, I was in grade school. I didn’t discover it until my late teens. Hearing the Rolling Stones played at a funeral forever changed me. I love that scene. I knew I wanted to wash dishes with people who loved Motown too. I wanted my 20s to be about friendships rooted in a passion for politics and partying (the dream combination), creating a legacy of vivid memories, of romantic liaisons (that’s right, plural…) and that shared sense of rebellion.

Years later, I would be successful, having, of course, left the rebellion for the respectable day job and the big money, only to return to my friends for one mind-blowing weekend of unrequited mischief, sex and classic rock. 

I must have gone to the wrong university. I was born in the wrong decade too. That’s okay, because while we can’t predict the path our lives will take, or who will be along for the ride, great friends and good music will surely smooth the road. And while we can’t repeat the past, we can experience it.

You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.

That notion, and a little Procol Harum, warm me up.



Kelly Waterhouse