If you know only one thing about "The Return of the Seacaucus 7," you've probably heard that this obscure little $40,000 home movie from 1980 was shamelessly ripped off three years later by Lawrence Kasdan's hit "The Big Chill."
Both movies tell the story of a gang of former 60's activists who reunite for a long weekend, but "Chill," with its bigger budget, name actors and excellent soundtrack, became a cultural touchstone. "Seacaucus," on the other hand, has remained largely unseen for 25 years and, though it marked screenwriter John Sayles' directorial debut, it only recently emerged on DVD.
On the disk's commentary track, Sayles rightly puts to rest "Chill" comparisons, pointing out that the two films have the same format but are intrinsically different. Unlike the affluent yuppies of "Chill," Sayles' characters are crucially younger and less successful; overeducated and underemployed, they're blinking into the headlights of both the Reagan era and their 30's, which are rapidly approaching.
Shot on weekends with money Sayles earned writing Roger Corman horror movies ("Pirhanna" and "Alligator"), "Seacaucus" is a rough gem. His amateur cast isn't too comfortable in front of a camera and their lines feel stagey, but Sayles' writing was good even then. Despite its occasional clunkiness, this early homegrown film paved the way for much better later efforts, like "Matewan," "The Secret of Roan Inish" and the truly great "Lone Star."