St. Elmo’s Fire: the cast
The opening shot of St. Elmo’s fire shows the cast graduating from Georgetown University, but the scene was shot somewhere else because Georgetown, a Catholic school, didn’t allow them to film on campus because they didn’t approve of the content of the movie. Premarital sex and drug use may have been very 80s. As well as 90s, 00s, and 10s, but Georgetown was still living in the 70s when Jack Tripper was only allowed to share an apartment with two unmarried women because he convinced Mr. Roper that he was gay.
Just a few months before this movie, three of these Brat Pack members (Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy, Emilio Estevez) starred in the Breakfast Club where they played high school students. I am much happier seeing them play people their own age. The 80s is famous for a lot of high-school movies, but this is the only widely known 80s movie about that transitional period after college graduation. (My high school English teacher, Frank McCourt, known for his memoir Angela’s Ashes, didn’t like the Breakfast Club. He said it was just about putting people in a room together for two hours, which had been done many times before in plays.)
Significantly, everyone in this scene is happy. Shortly after this opening shot, the movie segues into a scene in which people are not happy. The message is that college is the happiest time and the real world sucks.
One of the reasons why the movie was not originally as well received as it deserved to be is because, on first viewing, it’s very difficult to keep track of seven different main characters. And a lot happens to them in less than two hours of screen time.
From left to right (note that I’m not even going to bother to refer to anyone by their character’s name):
Andrew McCarthy: He works for a newspaper writing obituaries, and I assume he mostly works from home because we don’t see him going to an office. Of course, he aspires to be a much bigger writer in the future. He doesn’t have any relations with women because he has oneitis for Ally Sheedy who, unfortunately for him, is in a live-in boyfriend-girlfriend relationship with Judd Nelson.
Mare Winningham: She doesn’t belong with the rest of this group. She’s not a member of the Brat Pack. But the movie called for an actress to play the ugly virgin girl who has oneitis for bad-boy Rob Lowe. Instead of wearing cool 80s clothes like everyone else, she wears dowdy clothes that a grandmother might have worn in the 80s. She’s a social worker who volunteers at a soup kitchen. Her desire to help others is shown as a negative thing; she’s too meek to have any goals or ambition for herself.
Rob Lowe: He’s the bad-boy musician. He has a wife and a baby. It’s not clear why he got married. I assume he must have been drunk or stoned when he did that. His wife and the baby make only brief cameo appearances, because he’s too much of a bad-boy to let a wife and baby get in the way of his carousing and casual sex. He also spends a lot of time with Mare Winnigham although they do not have a sexual relationship. Their relationship doesn’t make any logical sense, but trying to insert some, I assume that because he’s such a narcissist he occasionally enjoys palling around with an ugly girl who worships him.
Judd Nelson: He has a job with a Democratic Congressman, and he is completely immersed in his career to an extent that makes him appear full of himself. During the course of the movie he leaves for a job with a Republican Senator because it pays more money to work for a Senator. Even during the 80s, the kind of people who wrote screenplays were all liberal, so his change of party allegiance is supposed to demonstrate his loss of soul to career ambitions. He frequently cheats on Ally Sheedy, his live-in girlfriend.
Ally Sheedy: She’s the artsy girl, pretty in a sweet, understated and slightly funky way. She was college roommates with Demi Moore. As already mentioned, she’s the live-in girlfriend of Judd Nelson. Today, one might think “duh, of course they’re going to live together,” but that was actually not something that was a given in movies and TV of the time, which were several years behind the changing social norms of the real world.
Ally Sheedy’s career is an enigma in the movie. In an earlier version of the screenplay, she’s an architect, but that was cut out of the movie. Was it cut out because they were just trying to shorten the movie, or because they wanted to present Sheedy as not having a career? I got the impression from watching the movie that she worked at an antique store along the Georgetown Canal. I am not sure if I was supposed to get that impression.
Ally Sheedy starts the movie completely clueless that Andrew McCarthy has a secret oneitis crush on her. She just enjoys using him as a sensitive beta-male friend. He’s in a friend zone the size of the Grand Canyon.
Demi Moore: She’s the beautiful party girl who drinks a lot, does cocaine, has casual sex, wears outrageous 80s clothes and hairstyles, overspends on her credit cards (remember that credit cards were an evolving thing; no one had credit cards at all in the 1960s, and it wasn’t until the 1980s when everybody had them) even though she has the highest paying job of the group, plans to sleep her way to a promotion, and is always whoring for attention.
Demi Moore never looked more beautiful than she did in this movie. Her vocal fry makes her seem world-weary but somehow also sexy. In future movies, the same vocal fry just made her seem masculine. Nevertheless, Demi Moore’s popularity, which began with this movie, is probably the most important contribution to this manner of speech becoming a popular trend among young women.
Emilio Estevez: He works as a waiter at St. Elmo’s Bar, their favorite college hangout. He is attending, or plans to attend, law school. And he has oneitis for Andie MacDowell who’s a beautiful medical student three years his senior. His behavior towards her definitely crosses the the creepy-stalker line, yet instead of calling the police and getting a restraining order, Andie MacDowell takes it all in with a sweet bland kindness towards him.