review for St. Elmo's Fire on AllMovie

St. Elmo's Fire (1985)
by Brian J. Dillard review

Although it's best remembered for foisting the "Brat Pack" on the collective American psyche, St. Elmo's Fire was also a mid-'80s box-office hit that crystallized the yuppie zeitgeist for a youthful demographic sandwiched somewhere between the teens of The Breakfast Club and the baby boomers of The Big Chill. Slickly directed by Joel Schumacher as he began his ascent into the blockbuster phase of his career, the film is undeniably a portrait of its time. Shoulder pads, sport coats, big hair, bland rock, and copious amounts of cocaine are the cultural accouterments with which these characters surround themselves, and it's hard to separate such images from what substance lurks in Schumacher and Carl Kurlander's script. A tale of post-collegiate friends entering the real world, the film ends up celebrating the very values it purports to disdain. There's plenty of hokum in here about following your dreams -- even, in the case of Rob Lowe's character, into a career as a soulful white-boy saxophonist -- but the commodity-fetish production design undermines any real introspection. For audiences who can ignore the Reaganomics and the self-absorption inherent in the visuals and the story line, though, there are plenty of soapy plot twists and well-acted performances to enjoy. Demi Moore is especially good as coked-up good-time girl Jules, while Andrew McCarthy and Emilio Estevez turn out fun and funny variations on long-suffering puppy-dog love. However, the climax -- starring Lowe, a lighter, a can of hair spray, and the hoary metaphor that gives the film its title -- is as emotionally hollow as it is thrilling and pretty. That's a fairly good assessment of the movie as a whole.