Friday, October 1, 2010

ST. ELMO'S FRIDAY PT. V: Philosophy & International Relations


We are in the midst of a pointless “link” scene between Kirbo and Kevin, who reveals he is suddenly going to medical school. Kevin probably notices the ladies’ underwear in Kirbo’s laundry sack and chooses not to say anything.

Kevin is dumbfounded at Kirbo’s obsession with Miss Biberman: “Listen Kirbs, you’re not really gonna go to med school just to impress this girl with whom you have a fleeting infatuation.” Kirbo responds with a bizarre existential mini-logue: “She’s the only evidence of God that I can find on this entire planet, with the exception of the mystical force that removes one of my socks from the dryer every time I do the laundry. Fluff and Fold, buddy, as soon as I make it really big, I’m going fluff and fold. I understand the fold but what’s the fluff?”

Kirbo, in his heightened state of psychosis, is beginning to ask the Big Questions of Life. “Fluff and Fold.” Is this a reference to some sort of dichotomy between Good versus Evil, God versus Satan? If Kirbo wants to “Fluff AND Fold” does this mean he subscribes to some sort of polytheistic world view where Satan and God exist as equal deities?


Kevin is assisting Leslie in making dinner. (In a moment of foreshadowing, Leslie pops his cork.) We learn that he has an unnatural attraction to Alec – he knows that Alec hates peppers in his food – and fully admits it. Yes, we’re seeing the “Is he gay?” motif being dangled in front of our eyes – Kevin even refers to Leslie as “Les.” In referencing Alec and Leslie’s marriage, Kev notes: “…since he was a Democrat but now’s he’s a Republican, I say all bets are off”—thus anticipating every political sex scandal for the next 25 years.

"How do we make this gorgeous girl look like a Shaker elder?"

Leslie burns her hand on the frying pan: “How do most women do this every night of their lives and not go completely insane?” (Years later, Hillary Clinton -- whom Leslie eerily resembles* -- got in terrible trouble for uttering this exact same sentiment; she rebuilt her hausfrau image by giving out a chocolate chip cookie recipe.) Kevin leaps to her assistance, a gesture in which we can see McCarthy’s acting chops at work: Since he has established that Kevin is a intrinsically nervous chap, his nervousness when helping Leslie ice down her burned hand doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. McCarthy has to “Trojan horse” his character’s massive love jones for Leslie without making it too obvious— after all, this is one of the “revelations” later in the story that the film’s shaky dramatic structure relies upon. McCarthy almost pulls it off, but he quick tennis-match glances between her wrist and her face give the plot point away. Then again, he’s not in the most subtle film ever made.
*I can never figure out why a lovely actress like Ally Sheedy would be done up in the most unsexy short church matron haircut and clothes. How is it even possible that two strapping young men in their sexual prime would ever be hot for her? She looks like the Church Lady threw up on Martha Stewart!

We find out why Kevin might be so bitter about love when he tells Leslie his “Ringo” story, which rings as false as a burnout’s SAT scores. As a young boho bongo man (ahhh, backstory for the bongos!) Kev “fell in love with the singer, he fell in love with the singer…” of his junior high school rock band. First off, what junior high school band plays “We’ve Only Just Begun?” by the Carpenters, or is even able to? Yet, Kevin’s young muse sings it “as sweet as Karen Carpenter.” He did what all of us sensitive nerds did: “I got really high on this cheap malt liquor (check) and I pledged my love to her (ditto) and the next day she ran off (yessiree, been there) with a bass player named ‘Ringo’” – wait, what?!? You couldn’t pick a worse name for a bass player. (My suggestion: “Spee.”) And how does a junior high school chick and a loser bass player “run away” in junior high? Where did they run to? Maryland? The 7-Eleven on the corner? In a way, S.E.F. is a bit ahead of its time here: Karen Carpenter was already two years dead but her hipster re-invention was yet to come. (Todd Haynes’ maverick Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story would come out two years later.)

KEVIN: …So I traded in my bongos for a battered Underwood typewriter.
LESLIE: On which you will type your way to becoming one of the most important writers in America!

No wonder this card-carrying narcissist loves her! She stokes (and strokes) him so beautifully! Here is one of my favorite characteristics of 80s films: Kevin can’t just aspire to be “a great writer” or even a good one – he has to be one of the most important. There is no middle ground. Everybody has to be the best. I agree I felt this same way at that age: it was all or nothing, no compromise. (Similarly, FuckFace can’t just be a terrific sax player, he has to be “the best,” honking off solos that no mortal being could pull off—but we’ll get to this later.) Kevin reveals he is working on a newspaper story on “the meaning of life.” Ah yes, graveyard shift on the death squad directly to columnist – that’ll work.

Great Kevin line as Alec enters with a bag o’ naughty lingerie, his tweed collar flipped up like an a-hole: “Tough day on the right wing, dear?” (We will come to realize by the end of this scene that these two secretly loathe each other.) Leslie scampers off to the boudoir to try on her nightie. Out of absolutely nowhere, Alec – a beam of heavenly light cascading over his $500 haircut – confesses to Kevin that while he was buying a “present” for Leslie, he and “this leggy blonde salesgirl” just squirted one off “standing up” in the dressing room of a local ladies’ lingerie store while watching themselves in a 3-way mirror (80s sex always involved looking at oneself in a mirror). Kevin’s snarky response: “So there were six of you.” This exchange is a prime example of S.E.F.’s biggest open wound: the causal throwing out of major plot points in such sloppily causal ways with no prep time or warning. It’s born from the attitude of: “Let’s get on with it! We’re losing millions just standing here!!”

KEVIN: (snark turned up to “11”) Marriage is a concept invented by people who were lucky to make it to 20 without being eaten by dinosaurs.* Marriage is obsolete.
ALEC: Dinosaurs are obsolete. Marriage is still around.
*Kevin’s line about dinosaurs actually does sound quite cool the first time you hear it. The second time, you realize it’s a case of a screenwriter “mershing” his words—meaning, throwing out some sort of random, elliptic philosophical rhetoric that sounds or at least he hopes sounds profound. It’s a slippery art to master, and Mr. Kurland nails it!

Then comes my fave moment in the whole film, a moment that is so nasty it’s almost too punk rock for this movie. After commanding Kevin to “stir those vegetables!”, Alec and Leslie both scamper off to the boudoir to do the nasty and Kevin – surrounded by the creamy-white kitchen accoutrements of his friends’ success, listening to Leslie’s shrill shrieks as Alec mounts her – ashes his cigarette into Leslie’s trendy Wok (much the way “Porterhouse” in Caddyshack ruined Ted Knight’s golf shoes after Knight told a racist joke). I had friends like Alec and Leslie, so goddamn right! Stir those vegetables why you mutherfuckcz$#&$...


Ahhh, at last, the REAL D.C.! Sleazy neon signs! Scary-looking hookers on the corner! The perfume of fear in the air! Kevin ambles down a dark alleyway, clutching his liquor in a paper bag, his baggy wardrobe making him look like Orson Welles in Touch of Evil with Andrew McCarthy’s tiny head on top. Kev has a brief verbal duet with a black hooker named Naomi*, who wears an imitation Michael Jackson red leather coat. She tells Kev she never asked him for a date because she always though he was gay and that he “always looks real strange” to her. Ouch!
*Thankfully, actress Anna Marie Horsford didn’t have to play any more insulting-stereotype street hookers for the rest of her career. She graduated to a put-upon ghetto mom in the Friday movies and put up with more gaggles of annoying white people in Grey’s Anatomy. Bit of trivia: Andrew McCarthy, Rob Lowe and Horsford were all in the movie Class, which was released the same year.

Kevin blubbers a confession: “Yeah well for your information I happen to be in love with someone only they don’t know it, okay?” She does not razor-slice his face. She takes his liquor and takes a flirtatious pull, ruined by her breathing bad-booze breath right back in his face: “People come to me for love, and it’s a secret.” She actually gives me a boner at this point in the film—the only female in the cast to do so. Then I want to scrub myself in sanitizing lotion.


A strange offhand treatise on the problems in the Middle East as experienced by spoiled, damaged international party girls. Coked out of her mind, Jules phones Alec from the palatial Potomac Suite of what looks to be a bunch of Saudi Arabian princes. Jules claims they’ve been “forcing me to do coke all night” and she’s certain they all want to run a train on her. Psschh, as if. She’s wearing the same goddamn pink cocktail dress as she was the other night AND she has a leather glove on only one hand. Who’d wanna go near this train wreck? The poor Arab dudes seem not to even realize Jules is there. Instead, they sit entranced by the old MTV logo. It’s possible they’re discussing quietly how to either behead or purchase her.

Alec sweeps into the hotel lobby in his navy pa coat with the little wooden pegs hanging off it like a svelte savior. He manhandles his way into the suite—why does the guy who opens the door let him in without emptying an Uzi into his back? Oh well, those were different times.

"And waste all of this good screen time on making sense?!"

Jules shrieks: “Alec, what are you doing here?!” Good God, what an annoying bitch! You call me down here at god knows what in the AM and then you ask me what I’m doing here? Then, after I embarrass myself in front of OPEC, you say you don’t want to be alone, hit on me by inviting me back to your place (some roomie!), break away, run to a pay phone, and call up some systems analyst – “this very hot Jewish guy” – and pester him at three in the morning with her coked up neediness.

ALEC: Jules, sometimes I think you make these dramas up to test me. Let me drive you home.
JULES: And waste all this good coke?
(What a phony moment in a phony scene! The way Moore delivers that last line is indicative of the subtle permissiveness encoded in this film: she says it like a cool kid would say it. We’re supposed to admire her for her wildness and her hedonism. We did, kinda.)

This scene ends with Alec just giving up and walking offscreen, which we surmise was the filmmakers saying. We give up, let’s move on.


It’s a frazzled day in the life of Wendy “Papa, Can You Hear Me?” Beamish. She’s all frumped out, wearing her nerd glasses, telling a dead-eyed white trash mom with three kids, two of whom appear to be black or Dominican: “Our purpose is to get you off welfare and train you in a skilled profession. Are you interested in the janitorial field? ” The mom, who obviously has been through this rigmarole before and has no truck for some postgrad libbie do-gooder, mutters: “Just give me my check.” (Apparently, in this particular welfare office in the middle of Washington DC, a single welfare mom is white! Cluelessness once again rears its frequent head!) Wend isn’t getting it: “There are some educational—“ “Just give me my check.” Wend relents, handing over the check for the government cheese with a nervous smile. The mom gathers up her brood and snarls: “Ya know, you get yourself some hot clothes, and get yourself a man, you won't be worrying about this shit.” Come to think of it, Wendy’s clothes aren’t much better than the mom’s. I bet she wears lesbian art-teacher clogs.

"Wendy, Wendy don't lose your head
Wendy don't believe a word he says
I can't picture you with him
His future looks awful dim..."

Even FuckFace – who just lost his pollster job in record time – is surprised as he shambles in: “Welfare recipients are getting better-looking.” This is perhaps the least douchy thing he says in the entire film. Wendy whines: “You ever feel like you're not accomplishing anything all?” Fuckface responds from behind his tortoise shell Ray Bans: “I think I'm in touch with that emotion. Let's get a drink.”


TUNE IN NEXT WEEK: Where we get to the most offensive scene in the whole film.

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