The Big Chill Out

T By Steven Snyder

the Return of the Secaucus 7 has an intimacy that is rarely achieved in mainstream cinema. While most films sacrifice character development in favor of plot, this exploration of friendship and life wisely understands where its priorities should lie. Writer and director John Sayles occupies himself almost exclusively with the depths of Secaucus‘ ten characters and makes a film that, without the constraints of a cumbersome story, is most interested in the sophisticated way time changes, divides and unites these lifelong friendships.

There is no real plot to The Return of the Secaucus 7, just exposition. The point of the film is to witness a weekend reunion of a group of friends – all former ’60s radicals – as they discover who they are, what this reunion helps them learn about themselves, and how their lessons translate to the viewer’s life. It is also a commentary on the fleeting nature of life and the changes that occur so subtly over the years.

Sayles shot the film in 25 days, on a budget under $50,000 and it feels alive primarily because of this frugality. It uses real settings, such as a lake the group goes swimming in or the bar they drink at, and this lends many scenes an added level of verisimilitude. Sayles often leaves the camera rolling for long, uninterrupted sequences, isolating the conversations with an almost documentary style. There is an emphasis on simple dialogue, where thoughts about the past, the future and love drive the moment – not extravagant camera techniques.

The film’s lack of a strong narrative serves to underscore one of its central messages. The group is almost always shown in very docile, stereotypical and lethargic settings. Watching the male characters play basketball and the female characters play cards, it is hardly possible to imagine them as the revolutionaries they once were. Time, it seems, has slowly chipped away at the group’s militancy.

As this group’s weekend is at its peak, one character observes, “I love being around people where I don’t need to explain my jokes.” For those who can relate, The Return of the Secaucus 7 will touch a tender nerve, reminding them of the void that goes hand in hand with living life and moving on. For those who can’t relate, rest assured, you will someday.

The Return of the Secaucus 7, Rated R. Directed by John Sayles. Starring Bruce MacDonald, Maggie Renzi, Adam LeFevre. Showing Nov. 1-3 at the Oak Street Cinema, (612) 331-3134.