Return of the Secaucus Seven

Years before “The Big Chill,” there was this ragged, low-budget indie about seven college friends who get together for a long weekend and end up taking stock of their lives.  Nothing earth-shattering happens, but it feels authentic. Written by John Sayles, who also played a small part in the picture, and starring a number of his actual college friends, the movie was made in twenty-five days for $60,000.  Not surprisingly, it didn’t make much of a splash.

I don’t remember where I saw it, but the characters stayed with me.  Mike and Katie, the couple who rented the place where everyone gathers.  They’re both high school teachers, the embattled kind, still idealistic but they know better than to show it.  Frances is in med school, planning to go into obstetrics, still single and pining after the sweet loser of the bunch, J.T., a third-rate country singer-songwriter. Irene brings her latest boyfriend, Chip, a button-downed guy who works with her in the office of a liberal senator.  Maura shows up unexpectedly to announce she’s splitting up with Jeff, sealing her resolution by sleeping with J.T. first chance she gets. Then Jeff shows up and the guilt-stricken J.T. confesses immediately.  Frances consoles herself with Ron, an old high school buddy of Mike’s who pumps gas and happily takes the leftovers.

Everyone’s flawed, but you accept them the way you accept your own friends, the exasperation cut through with affection based on shared memories.  “Ever since VISTA, his causes have been getting loster and loster,” someone says of Jeff.  Before Irene and Chip come down for breakfast, the others run down the list of her previous boyfriends:  Dwight, the drug addict she tried to reform for three years, the one who came after Dwight, who nobody liked, the one who came next, who only Jeff liked.  And last summer’s one-night stand, Ron.

Anger, betrayal, lost dreams and the persistence of friendship and hope:  it’s all here, in a low-key kind of way.  A slice of life, just tart enough to convince you it was made from scratch.

(2 June 2011)