DIRECTOR-writer Lawrence Kasdan is maturing. His newest film, ''Grand Canyon,'' is proof of that. When he did ''The Big Chill,'' he was 34 and still basking in the afterglow of the '60s.
In the eight years since then, he has become more aware of the larger society, and in this instance, he does not like what he sees.
He is not making comment on American society. He is simply observing it, and in the end, he offers some hope that we can make our way out of this mess.
It's a long film, but then what film today is not? "Grand Canyon" takes place in Los Angeles, where Kevin Kline, as a lawyer, finds himself in the wrong part of the city. He is being menaced by a group of toughs when a tow-truck driver comes to his rescue.
The lawyer and the driver become good friends, and when the lawyer introduces the driver to a friend, the introduction takes. Girl and guy like each other.
Another character is played by Steve Martin. He is a movie producer who does gore movies, and for the first time in cinema history, a film character blames part of what has happened to our society on the sick movies some people market.
The same man has a younger girlfriend who cries when she realizes that she is wasting time with this man. She knows he is not interested in either marriage or children, but she can't bring herself to leave the man.
''I want to have children,'' she says. ''I don't even know if I can, considering what I have done to my body,'' and once more, we have what might be a film first -- the first time, possibly, that a veteran of the '60s admits on screen that some of the flowers from the flower-power era have been trampled.
''Grand Canyon'' is an ensemble film. No one really has the lead. Mary McDonnell is the wife of the lawyer, a woman who finds an abandoned baby in the park and wants to adopt it. Danny Glover is the tow-truck diver, Mary-Louise Parker is the lawyer's secretary who loves her boss but knows it is futile to do so, and Alfre Woodard is her good friend, the woman who takes to the tow-truck driver.
''Grand Canyon'' considers many of the ills that confront the American citizen but does not see the situation as hopeless. When the lawyer finds an apartment in a nicer part of town and makes it available for the sister of the truck driver, Kasdan is saying that every little bit helps, that we can all do something to improve the situation.
Sure we can, and that's a nice message to hear from the screen. ''Grand Canyon'' is observant without being desperate. It moves at a leisurely pace, but it is always interesting. This is ''The Big Chill'' a few more years down the road. It is good to see that Kasdan has come around a bit.
*** Six people and the frazzled lives they lead in Los Angeles.
CAST: Daniel Glover, Alfre Woodard, Mary McDonnell, Kevin Kline, Steve Martin, Mary-Louise Parker
DIRECTOR: Lawrence Kasdan
RATING: R (Language, nudity, violence)
RUNNING TIME: Two hours and 17 minutes