On June 28, 1985, Columbia unveiled St. Elmo’s Fire, an angsty, R-rated post-college drama, in theaters nationwide. The Hollywood Reporter’s original review is below:
The freshman year of life — the first year out of college — is often tougher than any course or crisis in sheltered college life. St. Elmo’s Fire should touch some nerves among the recently graduated or soon-to-graduate who are experiencing these anxieties. Those between the ages of The Breakfast Club and The Big Chill will likely burn a wide path to the box office for this big-name youth production.
In St. Elmo’s, seven recent graduates of Georgetown, six months past matriculation, are still tied in varying degrees to the hallowed halls. They’re afraid to let go of college life entirely, clinging to their companionship and prolonging their actual plunge into the real world. While each has credible personal problems, St. Elmo’s credibility itself is stretched by their association — that these particular individuals should bond together as a group is the weakest aspect of Joel Schumacher’s and Carl Kurlander’s bright and often cynical script. Even more unbelievable than the group itself are some of the personal pairings with, namely, a cavalier lady killer (Rob Lowe) with a virginal homebody (Mare Winningham).
In tone and theme, St. Elmo’s belongs to the same class as The Graduate and Goodbye, Columbus. But this film’s point of view (scattered through seven different characters) never crystallizes with the same assurance that those two earlier rites-of-passage films possessed. Yet, there is an abundance of astute and knowledgeably drawn scenes with this contextually structured story. There are some biting observations of college life, with law school in particular taking some verbal jabs on the chin.
Lowe as the loathsome lover boy is probably the most interesting and vulnerable of the film’s characters, surely the one who’s suffering undergrad withdrawal pangs the most. Still hanging out at the frat house and nailing everything in skirts, Lowe’s devastated by the realization that “in everyday life there’s just no way to be out of hand.” He’s marking time by boozing and bedding.
The others, in their respective ways, are similarly killing time: (Demi Moore) coking and sleeping with her boss; (Andrew McCarthy) writing and pining for love; (Emilio Estevez) waitering and chasing an older doctor; (Judd Nelson) campaigning and selling out politically; (Mare Winningham) welfare-working and waiting to get married; and (Ally Sheedy) modern-womaning and finding herself.
The film’s most raucous, as well as most believable, moments come in the group’s favorite college hangout, St. Elmo’s Bar. And their eventual rejection of the place comes as the film’s symbolic point of passage, a strained yet pleasing wrap-up.
Despite the often skewed story, performances under Joel Schumacher’s intelligent direction are spirited and on-the-mark, most notably that of Lowe as the caddish pretty boy and Moore as the frazzled coker. The other leads: Estevez, McCarthy, Sheedy, Winningham and Nelson all deserve plaudits for their credible contributions.
Technical credits, including some appropriately idyllic photography of autumnal Georgetown by Stephen H. Burum, lend the appropriate collegiate glow. High marks similarly to costume designer Susan Becker and set designers James E. Tocci and Christopher Burian-Mohr. — Duane Byrge, originally published June 17, 1985.