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Top Movies About Class Reunions: My List

Mohan is a family physician, film and TV aficionado, a keen bibliophile and an eclectic scribbler.

I was at the movies recently and the trailers for forthcoming attractions came on. There was one for a film called ‘Ten Years’ starring Channing Tatum. (He seems to be everywhere this year—must have a great agent!)

There was something immediately heartwarming about the theme—a 10-year college reunion. I remembered my own college reunion a few years ago: the anticipation, the surprises and disappointments, the awkward conversations and instant reconnections, the fakes and the real-deals, old jokes and new laughs, getting drunk, singing and dancing and getting generally overwhelmed by the whole experience.

All this made me think about the reunion films I have enjoyed in the past. So I decided to make a ‘list’ of some of the better ones. The theme is evergreen and opens up to a million possibilities, as these films aptly demonstrate. You may have seen some or all of these. There may be others out there too so do add to the list in your comments below. This is purely based on the films I have seen.

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The film that launched many a career, the baby-boomer classic that inspired many reunion stories to follow, was director Lawrence Kasdan’s sophomore effort. He had an earlier hit with the dark thriller Body Heat starring William Hurt and Kathleen Turner, hailed by critics as ‘neo-noir’.

The Big Chill brings together many of Kasdan’s friends. Originally it was intended to showcase the acting skills of his closest friend Kevin Costner, who played the central character whose death brings all the friends together for a 15-year college reunion. In a strange twist of fate, Kasdan’s final cut edited out Costner, instead only showing his body being dressed for the funeral in the opening sequence.

Kevin Kline and Glenn Close play married couple Harold and Sarah in whose house the unhappy victim had stayed with his strange girlfriend Chloe (Meg Tilly). The suicide and the subsequent funeral brings together the others who haven’t seen each other since college days. Successful TV star Sam (Tom Berenger), sexually frustrated journalist Michael (Jeff Goldblum), career woman desperate for a child Meg (Mary Kay Place), drug-addicted Vietnam vet Nick (William Hurt), and unhappily married mother of two Karen (Jo Beth Williams) together for one eventful weekend after the funeral.

The friends dissect past and present, wisecrack and smoke pot, pair off in unexpected combinations and all the while try to explore why Alex may have lost his will for his life.

Combining drama with effortless comedy, full of wonderfully natural acting and dialogue, this is a gem of a film that doesn’t trouble itself in giving cheap emotional pay offs but showcases life and all its vagaries in a smart, sensitive and entertaining ride and was nominated for three Oscars. It won the Writer's Guild Award for best original screenplay.

Film Factoid

After famously leaving Kevin Costner's (Alex) face on the cutting room floor (you still get to see his body getting prepared for the funeral!) , Director Lawrence Kasdan made up by making a star out of him by giving him a lead role in his following hit film, a Western revival, Silverado.

The Soundtrack

A special mention has to go to the outstanding soundtrack for The Big Chill that became a classic in its own right. It features many a Motown Classic including the Temptations (My Girl, I ain't too proud to beg), Marvin Gaye (I heard it through the Grapevine), Aretha Franklin (You make me feel like a ...), Four Tops (It's the same old thing), and many many more.

After a fantastic run in the seventies making the classics The Godfather I and II and the superb Apocalypse Now, Francis Ford Coppola suffered a string of flops in the eighties until he came up with this little gem. It is about a middle aged housewife Peggy Sue (Kathleen Turner) going to her 25th high school reunion full of regrets about her decision to marry her high school sweetheart Charlie (Nicholas Cage).

In a strange twist of time and space she gets zapped back to the sixties and with all the foreknowledge of what has happened since, gets a chance to remake her life decisions all over again. Will she once again fall for the charms of Charlie or will she pair up with the nerdish Richard (Barry Miller) who has always carried a torch for her? Peggy Sue sets about repairing some past regrets but may well be making some new ones.

Full of delightful plot twists, fish out of water comedy and splendid acting, this once again shows Coppola could do small as well as big, as long he is armed with the right script. The film also features the as yet popular Jim Carrey as Walter Getz and the consummate veterans such as Maureen O’Sullivan and John Carradine. With a great soundtrack and splendid acting, this is definitely one to watch.

The film has been ranked in Entertainment Weekly's top 50 high school movies of all time.

Film Factoid

Did you know that Nicholas Cage's real name is Nicholas Kim Coppola and that he is Francis Ford Coppola's nephew and cousin to the latter's daughter Sofia Coppola (who directed Lost in Translation).

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This British Big Chill is a delightful ensemble comedy drama, directed by and starring actor/director Kenneth Branagh (Thor, Frankenstein, Henry V).

Ten years after they had been to Cambridge and acted in an ensemble comedy troupe, the friends of Peter (Stephen Fry) join him at his request to spend a New Year weekend at his newly inherited country house. Peter lives here on his own with his housekeeper (Phyllida Law).

The friends are Andrew, now a successful Hollywood screenwriter (Kenneth Branagh), married advertising jingle writers Roger (Hugh Laurie) and Mary (Imelda Staunton), costume designer and serial seducer Sarah (Alphonsia Emmanuel) and the eccentric publishing executive Maggie (Emma Thompson). Accompanying them is Andrew's wife Carol (Rita Rudner, who co-write the screenplay) and Sarah's latest lover Brian (Tony Slattery).

Over the course of the weekend past laughs collide with present realities. The laughter hides many darker undercurrents and secrets. Everyone's perceived success is slowly revealed to be tainted with personal tragedies and regrets and ultimately put into perspective as Peter reveals the reason for bringing them all together.

This masterful ensemble comedy/drama is chock full of acting talent and future stars who go onto become even greater roles and accolades and award glories. And yes, who would've thought the browbeaten jingle writer/husband Hugh Laurie will go on to become the sex symbol Dr. House.

Film Factoid

Many of the cast actually did go to Cambridge University in real life (Fry, Laurie, Slattery, Thompson as well as co-screenwriter Bergman) and were part of the ensemble troupe Cambridge Footlights during their time there. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie were popular on British TV as a comedy double act. Branagh was married to Thompson at that time and Phyllida Law who played the housekeeper is Emma Thompson's mother in real life!

Martin Q Blank (John Cusack) has a problem. An Ex-CIA operative and a currently a freelance assassin for hire, he is wealthy, lethal and successful. However he is having an existential crisis. His life feels empty, he is having pangs of guilt (not about the killings) about jilting his high school sweetheart Debi (Minnie Driver) at prom night. His secretary Marcella ( Joan Cusack) and his nervous therapist Dr Oatman (Alan Arkin) both suggest he takes a break by attending his high school reunion.

Martin is understandably having doubts about the whole enterprise ( Do I tell them I killed the president of Paraguay with a fork?) but when an assignment comes up in his hometown Grosse Pointe, Michigan that coincides with his reunion, Martin hopes to mix business with (?) pleasure. He meets Debi (who is still single) and attempts to reconcile the lost years as clumsy NSA agents (Hank Azaria), old friends (Jeremy Piven) and rival assassins converge to Grosse Pointe on reunion night, what follows a madcap mayhem of thrills, romance, existential awakening and shoot outs.

In a stunningly original premise, Grosse Pointe Blank is an exciting, funny, thrilling, romantic film played for laughs with a scorching screenplay and quote-worthy one liners. Add into the mix a deadpan Dan Ackroyd as a rival assassin who is forcing Martin to join a union, and you have all the ingredients for a highly entertaining couple of hours.This is one of my all time favorite comedy classics that has enjoyed cult success on home video. The film was co-written and produced by John Cusack and was directed by George Armitage.