Shag

January 22, 2020

shagWho needs a sequel to Dirty Dancing? Shag is here. The dancing is a bit cleaner in this new movie, but otherwise the vibe is about the same.

It’s summer in South Carolina, 1963, and four teenage girls are out to have a last big weekend. One (Phoebe Cates) is about to be married, two (Annabeth Gish and Page Hannah) are scheduled for college, and the fourth (Bndget Fonda) figures she might try being a movie star. They set off for Myrtle Beach to have themselves a time.

The rest of the movie is the weekend, which, of course, turns out to be tumultuous. Cates is supposed to marry a young dullard (Tyrone Power Jr.) who’s going into his rich father’s tobacco business. As she notes, “He’s already got some ideas on how to improve filter-tips.” But a few minutes alone with a hunky Myrtle Beach stud (Robert Rusler) and her fiance goes up in smoke.

The movie is cleverly constructed around two events. Fonda enters the Miss Sun Queen contest to grab the attention of the judge, a massively pompadoured singing sensation; unfortunately, the prize is won by a trashy little vixen in a Confederate flag bikini.

And Gish and her new beau (Scott Coffey) enter the Shag contest, in which couples dance the Shag, a swingin’ dance. (This movie, like “Dirty Dancing, was choreographed by the spirited Kenny Ortega.)

Shag features the usual components of this sort of thing, with lots of old songs, one really big party, and a decisive deflowering. It doesn’t have anything new to say, but some of the individual scenes are nicely directed by Zelda Barron, who brings a warm touch to the girl talk.

Otherwise, the film veers between American Graffiti and Where the Boys Are. The actors keep it appealing; Gish was one of the pizza girls in Mystic Pizza, and she brings a similar level-headedness to these proceedings. The standout is Bridget Fonda, recently seen in Scandal. She’s very savvy, which is probably natural for someone who grew up in a family acting tradition. Incidentally, her father Peter made his movie debut in 1963 in Tammy and the Doctor, a film the girls of Shag would probably have loved.

First published in the Herald, July 20, 1989

Zelda Barron had a long career doing odd things in film (everything from script girl to a rumored script doctor on Reds to directing Boy George videos). She was also music video director Steve Barron’s mother. I can’t say anything about Shag, but at one time I did have a soft spot for Beach Party movies and the likes of Where the Boys Are, and probably still do. Scott Coffey has been in the David Lynch galaxy since having a “scenes deleted” credit for Wild at Heart; he’s in most of Lynch’s projects since then. Page Hannah married Lou Adler. Fonda hasn’t made a movie in 18 years.