Best of the 80s: Shag (1989)
This is one of those great 80s movies that stars folks who are no doubt now cringing in horror that they ever agreed to do this piece of fluff. Having said that, what an AWESOME bit of fabulously contrived fluff it is!
Shag stars Phoebe Cates, a young and highly padded Bridget Fonda, 80s nerd-girl stalwart Annabeth Gish, Daryl Hannah’s younger sister Paige, and character actor Scott Coffey, who wisely chose to become a director not long after this movie went down.
Shag‘s concept is simple – what worked for Dirty Dancing can work for the South Carolina Shag – only with more of an upbeat, technicolor spectacle of sound and hammy acting. Much like Dirty Dancing, the original soundtrack of hits from the early 6os is responsible for much of the better points of the film. The soundtrack’s best hits include “Harlem Shuffle” by Bob and Earl, “Let Me In” by The Sensations, “It Will Stand” by The Showmen, and the little-heard novelty hit “Alley Oop” by The Hollywood Argyles. Unfortunately, some DVD copies of the film leave out some of the original hits due to licensing issues. If you can get your hands on one with the original soundtrack intact, you’ve hit gold.
The film’s plot is pretty straightforward chick flick lite. A group of teenage graduates from Spartanburg, South Carolina decide to have one last fling together at Myrtle Beach before they go their various ways (several to college, one to pursue a film career, and one embarking on a road to housewifery). These friends are wild-child preacher’s daughter Melaina (Bridget Fonda), prim senator’s daughter Luanne (Paige Hannah), sweet and romantic Caroline/”Pudge” (Annabeth Gish) and uptight pretty girl Carson (Phoebe Cates).
The girls “kidnap” Carson before her upcoming wedding to Harley Ralston (a bland Tyrone Power, Jr.), who is the heir of a tobacco fortune. Myrtle Beach is presented as a kind of Sodom and Gomorrah of the Carolina shore…the girls GASP collectively as the pass a motel where one of their unfortunate classmates was impregnated the year before.
Most of the action in the film centers around each girl’s goals for the future, usually in tandem with their chosen love interest. Carson falls for the charming local bad boy, Buzz Ravenel, whose eyes smolder and whose name identifies him as a possible cousin to Rhett Butler. She must decide whether to abandon her bland fiancee and give up her heart to an uncertain boy and a Yankee college (the horror of it all)!
Aspiring starlet Melaina has a crush on the pampered movie star Jimmy Valentine, who is in town to judge a weekend beauty pageant. She enters the pageant, which has surprising results for such a formulaic movie.
Shy and self-conscious Pudge immediately bonds with Buzz’s best friend Chip, a good guy used to being most girls’ second thought when faced with Buzz’s chiseled features. Their friendship and eventually romance is one of the more genuinely thought out and successful parts of the movie.
This leaves uptight senator’s daughter Luanne, who has harbored a crush on Carson’s fiancee Harley, who is much more of a fit with Luanne than he is with the flighty Carson.
The music is what drives the movie and most of its best scenes, especially the ones that take place at The Pavilion, where tourists and locals alike swelter and sip Coca-Colas and “Beevos” as they dance the night away. The final showdown at the Shag contest where Pudge and Chip finally realize they care for each other is the perfect end to a hectic last half hour.
There are some of the traditional 80s scenes – there’s a house patry that goes awry that is reminiscent of the famous scene in Sixteen Candles, and much mayhem and partner-switching occurs before the sun sets on Myrtle Beach.
Still, all four of the leads are capable actresses and Shag is just plain fun to watch. Get your hands on a copy for a lazy evening.