Yes, I’m back. I never really left, I have just been going through a lot of adjustments in my life (including a new puppy and a retired spouse), so I have not gotten to the dozen or so films on my original list as quickly as I had hoped to. There is a little more time available here in the summer, so I’m going to continue to stretch out the project and hope that it will not be six months between posts in the future. I return to 30 Years On with a movie that should have been a summer release but actually debuted at Christmas time.
The Flamingo Kid” is a coming of age story set in the Summer of 1963. Jeffery Willis is a recent high school graduate, very smart but from a working class background and unsure of where he is headed in life. His father, played by Hector Elizando when he still had some hair, wants him to go to college, preferably Columbia, and become an engineer. Like most teens, Jeffery resists doing the thing his father wants and explores some other options. His friends from the old neighborhood take him to their beach club one day and things begin to change right there.
There is nothing groundbreaking about this story. It has certainly been told before and since, but it is an exceptionally well told tale with a couple of very nice performances from the lead actor and his character’s mentor and finally antagonist. The film was directed by Garry Marshall, and that may be a positive or a negative in your eyes. Mr. Marshall is a competent film maker with a lot of fine credits to his name. “Pretty Woman” and “The Princess Diaries” are successful films with big and loyal audiences and Marshall does have a distinct style that often reflects his practical roots in television. There are no fancy camera angles, the production design is spot on, and the actors are well cast and directed. Without much visual flourish, Marshall comes to depend on a good script and solid actors. “Exit to Eden” and Georgia Rule” are good illustrations of the need for a script in his hands. Fortunately, this movie has a nice one credited to him, Neal Marshall (I suspect a relative but did not discover a clear link) and some script doctoring by Academy Award winner Bo Goldman.
Hector Elizondo appears in every movie that Marshall makes and he was nicely cast here in the role of father to the lead, a young Matt Dillon. While his work is excellent, he is not the other performer that deserves some special recognition for the film. That honor goes to Richard Crenna, who appears as the model that young Jeffery begins to base his life on. Phil Brody is a wealthy car dealer who plays in a running game of gin at the club that Jeffery starts working at. His upbeat manner and go getter style appeal to the young man as a way out of the drudgery of his Brooklyn life path. Phil is full of advice and stories about how to make a success out of yourself. He has the material trappings that any ambitious young man would envy, a big house, a fast car, and a reputation as the King of the beach club, based on his success at cards. When he takes Jeffery under his wing, you can see that dueling father figures are the spine of the story and we are immediately suspicious of the glad handing and somewhat superior Mr. Brody. Matt Dillon does a solid job bouncing between the two figures. He respects his father but sees him as a limited thinker who is too timid in his ambition. He also recognizes that he may be out of Brody’s cultural status but he tries to fix himself and model his attitude so as to fit in better despite being a cabana boy. Crenna uses his easy going smile and avuncular manner to sell this character. At first he is intimidating and then he sounds sincere when he is talking with Jeffery. As the story goes on, there are more reptilian elements that the actor is able to bring out that make us worry that Jeffery will be blind-sided. Crenna was a serious contender for an Academy Award nomination for his part in the supporting category. He was nominated for a Golden Globe but was passed over by the Academy.
I was five when this movie was set but I remember how summer felt and how everyone dressed. This culture was very different than the one I grew up in but many of the fashions were the same. The idea of a beach club was new to me but I suspect that it is a typical setting in places like Long Island. I will defer to my East Coast experts to tell me if they thought the Club felt authentic. It looked like a very busy atmosphere and one that could be stimulating to the young love that is also portrayed in the movie.
Janet Jones (better known today as Mrs. Wayne Gretzky) plays Carla,the niece of Phil, a visitor from the West Coast (I won’t mention the school she attends, every time she was wearing that sweatshirt I had to boo). She draws the attention of all the boys but is intrigued by the rough around the edges but handsome Jeffery. There is an amusing sequence when Jeffery is invited to Phil’s house for dinner by Carla and he is amazed by the size of the house and befuddled by the soaps in the bathroom. His habit of humming while eating is a moment of awkwardness that we can laugh at, he will be embarrassed by but for which Carla seems generously forgiving. It’s not really a Romeo/Juliet type of thing, it is barely an issue that he comes from a different background than hers, except that he sees the way successful people live and he becomes enamored of the slick Phil Brody.
The movie has a wide assortment of young actors and veterans of other Garry Marshall films. Bronson Pinchot broke out in his role in Beverly Hills Cop, released just two weeks earlier than this film. Fisher Stevens is Jeffery’s buddy and there is a small role of a thug from a rival group of guys played by John Turturro, and Marisa Tomei also has a small part in the movie. If you are a fan of “Archer” on the FX channel, you might appreciate seeing a younger version of Mallory Archer in the film. Jessica Walter who was the original “Fatal Attraction” in “Play Misty For Me”, is Phil’s frustrated and frequently confused wife. She is a typical distracted and neglected woman of the early 1960’s. Many of the older women at the club make eyes at the cabana boys and valets but that is not where the story is going. There are many incidents that don’t turn into full blown plot lines and for that we can be thankful. It isn’t a sex comedy or a gross out story and the time period, while ripe for cultural issues stays mainly focused on the relationship between Jeffery and his two father figures.
The card game becomes the turning point in the path for Jeffery. His upbringing and values are stronger than the easy money approach that he envied for most of the summer. His emulation of Phil is done as we can immediately detect by the way he abandons the upside down card fan that he had copied from his idol. The road to success will ultimately be paved with hard work and the principles that his real Father imbued in him. There is a moral to the story and we can see it coming from early on, but it was still a very well told story and entertaining in the way movies once were. It’s not loud, crass or flashy, it’s just interesting and worth a couple of hours of your time.
“The Flamingo Kid” was the first film ever rated “PG-13” but ended up being released after several other films also received the new rating, it was the fifth to be released with that rating, after Red Dawn, The Woman in Red, Dreamscape, and Dune. This may be the film that established the one use of the “F-word” rule that keeps a film from being “R” rated but definitely not for kids. There was one use of the term here and I guess that established the precedent.
Glad to be back, hope everyone keeps reading and thanks for your patience.