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RETURN OF THE SECAUCUS SEVEN

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: After playing in the dramatic competition of the January 1981 Utah-U.S. Film festival (before the Sundance Institute took over), this independent production put John Sayles on the map. Though Lawrence Kasdan denied it, Sayles’ film seems to have provided the template for Kasdan’s ‘The Big Chill,’ which followed two years later and earned a lot more attention. Be that as it may, Sayles’ film is largely forgotten today but it still deserves a look. You can find it on at Amazon on DVD. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on July 10, 1981.

Though it has played around the country and was featured at the United States Film & Video Festival in Park City earlier this year, “Return of the Secaucus Seven” is just making its Salt Lake premiere this weekend at the Elks. A character study, “Return of the Secaucus Seven” is alternately funny and tender as it chronicles the reunion of a group of men and women entering their 30s, and who spent part of the 1960s together as political activists.

As they come together, we meet them individually. and through mutual reactions the changes in character become evident but not obvious. Like real life, the audience will first jump to conclusions based on superficial knowledge, then as each person in the film is probed deeper, as we get to know them better, some of those perceptions will change.

Though cheaply made — and the low-budget qualities of this film are obvious in many ways — “Secaucus Seven” is a much more intimate film than any being made when it was first attempted. Now, coming on the heels of “Kramer vs. Kramer” and “Ordinary People,” it will perhaps seem less unusual, if no less interesting.

Writer-director-editor John Sayles, who also plays a small role, handles his actors well and knows where to cut a scene, but his major strength is in his writing. The dialogue here will make you thinks of people you know and people from your past.

     

         Filmmaker John Sayles (circa the early 1980s)

He also has a unique sense of time, filling his ’70s characters with ’60s nuances, showing us that some of these people are trying to relive the past instead of going forward with the future. “Secaucus Seven” is an ensemble piece, and, like “The Four Seasons,” some of Sayles’ scenes are punctuated with a sense of reality that is as painful as it is funny.

Two other Sayles screenplays that have hit Salt Lake theaters in the past few months are those for “The Howling” and “Alligator,” two horror films that were notable for the sense of humor that pervaded each work.

Here, Sayles is more interested in making us look at ourselves as others see us than making huge social statements, and as a result “Secaucus Seven” never gets preachy. Occasionally he misses a mark, and the movie itself has the look of a 16-mm homemade product sometimes, but the viewer who enjoys good storytelling, excellent character development and insightful humor should thoroughly enjoy this one.

     

Though unrated, “Secaucus Seven” would probably receive an R for profanity, nudity and sex; none of it is excessive, but it’s too strong for a PG.

The title, by the way, comes from the group’s past; it seems they met when they all piled into a friend’s car and headed for a political demonstration, but only got as far as Secaucus, New Jersey, where they were all arrested on a phony charge. It was during their wait in the jail that they became friends.

The casting is also worth mentioning. There are, of course, no name stars here, but it’s always nice to see a movie filled with characters that look like real people. They aren’t the typical Hollywood beauty queens and muscle men; everyone here looks like he could be a member of your neighborhood. And before it’s over, you’ll probably spot several of your neighbors.