It is difficult to know where to begin with The Big Chill. There's the great cast, the brilliant choices in music, the witty script and above all else, the huge rewatchability factor. Most likely, it can be considered Lawrence Kasdan's best film as director and it is certainly his most critically successful work. There are many reasons why.
Let's start by simply looking at the plot. Old friends reunite at the funeral of one of their college pals after his suicide. Over the weekend, they attempt to discover why he did so and at the same time re-evaluate their own lives. Set to outstanding tunes from the 60's and populated by an all-star cast, we have the recipe for a winner. The script is full of questions left over from the days of radical campus politics and attempts to reconcile with the "me" decade of the 80's. In the attempt to explain why the radicalism died, the script fails other than to blame it on a "cold world" aka the chill of the title. However, I took a different idea from that - in many ways, the film shows how idealism of youth almost always disappears with age. And those that have a difficult time putting away such idealism struggle.
The cast, as mentioned, is incredible. Kevin Kline, William Hurt, Glenn Close, Jeff Goldblum...on and on. It's really a who's who of 80's talent. Even Kevin Costner has a role, though it ends up on the cutting room floor. He plays the corpse and for the longest time, I felt this role to be his best. I've since come to appreciate his work. And the most under-rated actor in the whole film probably has to be Kline. He's the most talented (in my opinion) and is almost wasted on a role that has little to do but be the rock (along with wife Close) for the rest of the friends to cling to in this time of trouble. He is subtle and often provides a counter-balance to the other more curious characters.
And the music. Before Scorsese and others figured out how to score dramatic moments using rock and roll, this film had already done it. It was not the first, but by all right, may very well be the best practitioner. There are flawless mixes of action and music that populate the film throughout and the film would be dramaticallly changed without that.
As a genre, it is difficult to place The Big Chill. It is at once both comedy and drama. Above all, it is an ensemble piece but not in the sense that say an Altman film is. It's the ensemble here that must tell the story in a conventional setting but through unconventional means. One aspect illustrates it well - the affair between the Glenn Close character and Alex, the dead friend. Never spoken of in great detail, it is mentioned and left alone even though Close brings her emotions regarding this towards almost every scene she is in. It helps explain why she does certain things near the end of the film and further provides a contrast to the other women, especially Jo Beth Williams.
By being his most difficult film to plug into a ready made hole, perhaps this is what makes The Big Chill Kasdan's most successful effort. Rather than depend on elements familiar to a certain genre, Kasdan is forced to tell his own story in his own way. It works. Humorous, touching, sad and happy - The Big Chill is a great way to spend a few hours. The music will certainly make you tap your feet, the words and actions of our characters will make you smile and perhaps even cry, and I can guarantee that if this is the first time you watch this film, it will not be the last. It's a one of a kind. That is all.