The Big Chill’s status as a vaunted classic is further proof that baby boomers just might be the worst, and the fact that Burning Bodhi lifts its premise wholesale from that film inspires little confidence. Despite that handicap, this update to the “high school friends have an impromptu reunion occasioned by the death of one of their own” genre is well-captured by writer-director Matthew McDuffie.
It commences with a diaspora of 20-somethings learning of the untimely demise via Facebook (how else?). The film captures the uniquely awful sinking feeling that accompanies that moment of realization — queasiness at the loss of a loved one, the indignity of finding out about it online — and McDuffie makes old profile pictures the most moving they’ve been since The Social Network.
Beautifully shot by David J. Myrick, Burning Bodhi is pleasing to the eye in a manner that’s seemingly particular to modestly budgeted indie fare in the almost-post-celluloid era; a handheld shot of a donkey doing donkey things as a family argument erupts is more striking than it has any apparent reason to be.
Questions (and tension) arise over who can trek back to New Mexico to participate in the mourning, though of course they’re nothing compared the interpersonal reckoning that awaits.
Everything that happens once the friends decide to host a funeral (emphasis on fun) is as contrived as you’d imagine, but it plays out onscreen with a pleasantly surprising degree of empathy. McDuffie makes it hard not to share in his soft spot for these admittedly shopworn characters, even when they wax poetic with lines like, “It’s ineluctable — an aneurysm just is.”