Fact: Everyone loves the Brat Pack. Molly Ringwald is a timeless role model, that’s for sure. But just because she’s played some relatable and badass characters doesn’t mean ‘80s movies have overall been the best depictions of the male-female dynamic. (Think Jake Ryan handing over his inebriated-beyond-consciousness girlfriend in Sixteen Candles. What the actual fuck, dude? No one deserves that, even if they aren’t Molly Ringwald!) It’s hard to find good movies with strong female characters; we all know the struggle. But there is an ‘80s movie that flips the usual conundrum of complex male characters and one-sided females. Crazier yet, it’s a Brat Pack movie without Molly! St. Elmo’s Fire is a movie about seven friends post-college and the way they handle life in the real world. Or rather, it’s about how the three ladies of the group handle life and the four guys treat all women the same – otherwise known as absolutely disgustingly and badly and like they don’t even have mothers.
Leslie, Jules, and Wendy each pass the Bechdel test, and even more importantly, they are real people with overbearing families, careers they care about, relationships they’re confused about, and friendships they’re trying to hold onto after college. Each of them has a ridiculously high level of independence and self-worth (especially when it comes to their sex lives) for a female film character. Which shouldn’t be something I’m so excited about, but I am! You mean none of the women in this movie ultimately end up with any of the guys? Even though it was a major possibility and all the guys made passes at at least one of them at some point? Why do I consider this such a miracle? Well, that’s life when you’re as obsessed with pop culture as I am and also care about female representation in the media.
Wendy (Mare Winningham) refuses the patriarchal family values constantly pressed upon her, insisting on working at the job she loves instead of getting married and being a stay-at-home mom, despite her dad’s flat out bribes. Leslie (Ally Sheedy) refuses to marry her college sweetheart because she “needs something for herself first” (you fucking go, girl!) despite her boyfriend being a total jackass and constantly pressuring her. (Seriously, Leslie is so badass. I want to be her and not just because she kept her pearls on while banging Andrew McCarthy.) And not all of the girls are perfect, flawless ladies either. Jules (Demi Moore) royally fucks up, but even when she does she has enough self-worth to stand up to Billy when he makes several forceful passes at her. I could wax poetic about fabulous fictional females across the entire internet, but then I wouldn’t get the chance to tell you about the dumbass boy characters in this movie, and wouldn’t that be a shame?
“Boys. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t shoot ‘em.” Wendy and Leslie’s semi-joking lament about the stupid men in their lives isn’t uncalled for; they have every right to be frustrated with the male characters that screenwriters Joel Schumacher and Carl Kurlander have given them because, man, are they selfish, one-note assholes. Normally, I love flawed characters, but only because usually those characters have really intriguing motives. Not these guys. It’s a shame, too, because I love all four of the actors, and I think they try pretty hard to make their characters likeable with the material they’re given. But it’s not enough. Kirby’s (Emilio Estevez) sudden and almost random obsession with Dale (Andie MacDowell) and his way-past-borderline stalker behavior is so creepy it almost becomes comical, because no one in the movie ever seems to realize it’s all disturbing, and she’s all “Yeah, why don’t you come inside this cabin in the middle of nowhere because I’m not worried about you murdering me at all.” Billy (Rob Lowe), on the other hand, is obsessed with sex in general, and he doesn’t seem to care who it’s with as long as it’s not his wife/mother of his child. The entire movie consists of him making passes at everyone with a vagina and disappointing his friends. But of course it’s Rob Lowe, so like, does anyone really care? (Yes, the answer is yes, we should all care. I’M SO DISAPPOINTED IN YOU, SAM SEABORN/CHRIS TRAEGER.) Alec (Judd Nelson) basically can’t get over how perfect he supposedly is and then completely ignores everything his girlfriend wants by trying to pressure her into marrying him. Thank God this character looks and acts nothing likes Bender, or The Breakfast Club might just be ruined for you and me and everyone in this entire world forever.
And then there’s Kevin, played by Andrew McCarthy (best known as the guy who isn’t Duckie in Pretty in Pink). Full disclosure: Kevin was kind of my dream man for a long time before I realized that even he was not exempt from the apparent law of physics that all male characters in St. Elmo’s Fire must be majorly selfish and generally sucky. The problem is that he’s not just some lovesick puppy, he’s a lovesick puppy with total Nice Guy Syndrome (which is pretty rampant in general in this movie, to be honest). He also thinks he’s superior to basically everyone because he’s suffering quietly while the girl he’s “in love” with is dating his best friend. Meanwhile, she tries to be a good friend to him and he only uses their friendship to get closer to her (and keeps lots of pictures of her on top of his… wait for it… coffin! Quirky or creepy, you decide). Ugh, Kevin, I believe Tyra said it best:
So the male characters in this movie suck and the girls are awesome. It’s surprising for an ‘80s movie, or any movie really, and I kind of love that about it. Sure, it would be all kinds of wonderful for every character, regardless of gender, to be a complex and potentially redeemable realistic portrayal of a human being, but I’m not going to complain; I got some pretty badass portrayals of women to be thankful for out of this movie, and sometimes that’s all you need. I honestly still love it; I am just exceedingly aware of its flaws. How many movies are there in which the women pass the Bechdel test but the men can’t seem to talk about anything other than their problems with women?