The archetypal Hollywood baby boomer, American director Lawrence Kasdan planned to be an English teacher upon his graduation from the University of Michigan. Instead, he began writing for Chicago-based TV commercials, winning several awards in the process. He eventually tried his hand at screenwriting and, after numerous disappointments, earned a credit on The Empire Strikes Back (1980), which led to his scripting of George Lucas' story for Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981).
Kasdan's first directing job was Body Heat (1981), a film noir for the 1980s which inevitably echoed the '40s classics in its genre, although made a great deal of money and secured the stardom of newcomer Kathleen Turner. Kasdan's script for Continental Divide (1981), based in part on the roisterous career of Chicago columnist Mike Royko, didn't do as well as Body Heat, but he made up for it with The Big Chill (1983), a tale of thirty-something angst which struck a chord with many disillusioned children of the '60s. (The film was remarkably similar to John Sayles' earlier and cheaper Return of the Secaucus Seven, but not enough to invoke lawsuits). Kasdan had planned to use The Big Chill to showcase his actor friend Kevin Costner, but circumstances forced him to almost completely cut the actor from the release print. The director made it up to Costner by casting him in a plum role in his next directorial effort, Silverado (1985), a rousing return to the Western genre which Kasdan and most others his age knew well.
As with The Big Chill, The Accidental Tourist in 1988 had a plot motivated by the sudden death of a loved one. The film was a dexterous blend of high comedy and deep tragedy, and won an Oscar for supporting actress Geena Davis. After the zany comedy I Love You to Death (1990), Kasdan returned to many of the search-for-meaning themes found in The Big Chill with Grand Canyon (1991), which furthered the director's contention that one must find peace of mind beyond the boundaries of materialism and social status. He then went in a completely different direction with The Bodyguard (1992), a melodrama he'd written for Steve McQueen nearly two decades earlier, but ended up filming with old pal Costner in the lead. The film made a fortune, although Kasdan's subsequent project with Costner, 1994's Wyatt Earp, was a lavish but extremely disappointing Western epic which ended up being one of the most conspicuous money-losers of the '90s. His bad luck continued the next year with French Kiss, a romantic comedy starring Meg Ryan and Kevin Kline that received only a lukewarm reception. The director bounced back with 1999's Mumford, the tale of a small-town psychologist, but, unfortunately, followed that in 2003 with the almost universally panned Dreamcatcher.