Shag: The Movie (1989)

It’s a new month and a new opportunity to have a new theme.

Back in December, I covered Alyssa Milano in a way that only a real creep, or possibly that undertaker character Tom Petty played in the “Last Dance with Mary Jane” video, could.  That was a way to look at the body of work of a 90s dream girl who blossomed into a girl who really liked making movies teenage boys liked to watch.  For April, I decided to step back to the 1980s and talk about another brunette vixen that boys love to this day – Phoebe Cates.

Phoebe Cates came into acting after a relatively successful modeling career in her teenage years.  Her first film was a Blue Lagoon ripoff called Paradise and co-starred Willie Aames in his pre-Bibleman days (and you better fucking believe that will be talked about before the end of this month).  In her second film, she would make a HUGE splash (no pun intended) in Fast Times at Ridgemont High when a topless fantasy of Judge Reinhold’s became cemented in every Gen Xer’s naughtiest of thoughts.

Like our previously featured leading lady, Milano, Cates had a dangerous mix of being cute and lovable, but also incredibly sexy.  She could often be summed up in two different ways – she could easily be the girl next door that you’ve crushed on all your life and didn’t really get a chance to woo and romance until gremlins invaded your small town, or she could be the girl in your math class that you fantasized about on a nightly basis because she was fucking cool as shit AND could teach Jennifer Jason Leigh how to give a blowjob with nothing more than a carrot.

Neither Gremlins or Fast Times will be featured this month.  Nor will Drop Dead Fred, because fuck you, I love that movie.  Instead I opted to pick some of her more obscure 80s movies to feature.  She, sadly, didn’t have a deep pool of roles.  She ultimately would go into retirement by the mid-90s only to come out briefly in 2001’s The Anniversary Party.  Since, she has focused her attentions on being wife to Kevin Kline and raising their children.

But enough about that for now.  We have a movie to talk about.  What is Shag: The Movie about anyways?  IMDb says: “Set in the Summer of 1963. Carson is getting married to her boyfriend so her friends Melaina, Pudge, and Luanne take her to Myrtle Beach for one last irresponsible weekend.”

If you expect me to make any Austin Powers jokes during this article, go fuck yourself.  I’m all for making jokes about ding dongs and boobies and fart and poop, but I’m a little above making obvious Austin Powers jokes.  So stuff those expectations right in your ding dong and take a poopy fart.

It takes us all of 20 seconds to realize that this movie is definitely selling us the idea that it 1) takes place in the South, 2) is pretty damn proud of it, and 3) was made in a time in which proudly displaying the Confederate Flag emblazoned inside the title of your movie was cool.  Look, let’s get this out of the way right now.  This movie is all about good old-fashioned, “proper” southern belles.  It’s all about what the role of a southern woman should be and how they should act and relatively prideful about the location in which it is set in the time that it was set – the South in 1963.  This isn’t going to look at the role of girls/women in the scope of 1987, when the movie was actually shot, let alone 2017, when I’m actually writing about this movie.  I can’t spend a great deal of time going over what’s right/wrong about attitudes of the time and place in which this is set, nor will I make the movie out to be some vile piece of trash because I’m born and bred a Yankee therefore unable to understand what the “Stars and Bars” means to a large portion of the South.  So, chuck all that into same bucket as the Austin Powers jokes.  I only point it out because of how quick it tells you where the story is taking place.

Instead, let’s just focus on what the movie does, the excellent soundtrack, Phoebe Cates, Bridget Fonda, and Annabeth Gish.

We are introduced to each of our main girls as they prepare for a road trip – Luanne (Page Hannah), “Pudge” (Gish), Melaina (Fonda), and Carson (Cates).  Melaina is a bit of a wild girl and a daughter of a preacher.  Pudge is named so because she used to be fat.  Carson is a reluctant bride whose boyfriend, Harley, is a bit overbearing.  Harley is pissy because Carson is taking off for three days and leaving him with everything to do for the wedding.  They are supposed to be headed to Ft. Sumter, but when Carson tells Luanne that she’s missing the road they are supposed to turn onto, the girls spring the surprise they are headed to Myrtle Beach.  Carson is none too pleased with this because she’s supposedly not allowed to go there.  She also is missing her boyfriend and doesn’t seem all that into the idea of meeting boys like Melaina plans to.


Luanne takes the girls to her family’s plantation home and sets a bunch of shitty rules about how they can’t be wild, can’t sit on the furniture, can’t drink the bourbon, can’t make calls, etc.  The girls prep to go out dancing and party in Carson’s honor.  I appreciate the scene for the most part because they are mostly sitting around in their bras and that’s just fantastic – particularly just for Phoebe Cates and Bridget Fonda alone.  However, Carson is upset.  She is worried that she’s making a mistake getting married while her friends head off to college.  Plus, it’s pretty well established in these early scenes that the other girls don’t seem all that impressed with Harley and just want to have one good last weekend with Carson.

As they cruise the main strip, they are harassed by a particular set of guys that they saw earlier in the day.  The first time they saw them, the boys sprayed beer on them.  The second time, they toss a water balloon made from a condom onto the car.  The main guy, Buzz (Robert Rusler), and Carson make eyes with each other.  Later, at the little dance hall place in Myrtle Beach, a couple guys come to take Luanne and Melaina out to the dance floor, and Buzz and his buddy, Chip (Scott Coffey), approach Carson and Pudge.  Despite Carson trying to deflect Buzz, he stays persistent and gets her to dance to “Since I Don’t Have You” by The Skyliners and she starts to kinda fall for his charms.

Frankly, I don’t blame her.  Have you seen A Nightmare on Elm Street 2?  Dude’s boss.

Carson leaves, somewhat begrudgingly, with Buzz, while Melaina leaves with a guy with one hell of a set of sideburns that a rival beauty queen is into as well.  Chip and Pudge go to a carnival with Carson and Buzz which leaves Luanne trying to herd them like cats.  While Pudge and Carson seem to have a pretty good night, Melaina nearly gets raped by the sideburns guy before the jealous beauty queen chick and her friend grab her and hold her down to spray shaving cream all over her, stick tissues onto her, and poor booze into her mouth.  Jesus, things have taken a very dark turn.

But don’t worry.  It’s all cool.  It will just fuel Melaina to later compete in the Miss Sun Fun Festival contest.

Buzz pours on more charm with Carson by apologizing to her for taking her on the Scrambler at the carnival they went to after the dance joint, which made her throw up, and getting fresh with her at the bar before that.  He pulls that awesome line saying that she must be tired of guys constantly falling in love with her.  She accepts his apology and says she never really dated anyone other than Harley so wasn’t all that used to other guys hitting on her.  We’ve seen Harley for just one scene, and I know he was a bit stilted to be a little bit of a whiner, and a “safe bet” for a girl to fall in love with and marry, but goddammit…  Robert Rusler is killing it in this movie.  The guy did a lot of things in his career, but he really should have been a gigantic star.  He’s charming as fuck and I am rooting for him to win Carson over.

I mean, look at these kids…

While Pudge and Chip “shag” – which is a particular type of dancing popularized in the Carolinas – Luanne finds Melaina drunk and left in the field after being attacked by the bitchy girls.  Carson and Buzz hits a snag when he tells her that he thinks marriage is just a legal form of prostitution.  Um…  Dude?  I don’t know exactly where you were headed with that, but now the incredibly cute Phoebe Cates is mad at you.  He does eventually sneak a kiss on her that lightens the mood again.  Later, Carson does call Harley to tell him they are in Myrtle Beach and not at Ft. Sumter which makes him really upset, but fuck that guy, Robert Rusler is the guy she needs to be with.  Because he is awesome.

The next morning, Chip and Buzz show up to hang out with Pudge and Carson.  In another room, Melaina starts practicing a routine for the Miss Sun Fun competition by dancing to Dixie while dancing around with… Well…  Let’s just say I never before actually wanted to fuck a Confederate Flag before…

I mean, she drapes it around her hardly clothed body, rubs it between her legs and all sorts of stuff.  At the very least, I never wanted to be that damn flag before.

Pudge teaches Chip how to dance better, or at least feel better about dancing, and dammit, those kids are a damn cute couple too.  Sadly, for as cute as a button as Annabeth Gish is in the movie, I kinda feel like she’s not going to get the proper amount of attention from me because Phoebe and Bridget, man…

Luanne helps Melaina with tips for how she can win the competition, but where Luanne is uptight and proper, Melaina wants to sex it up.  But the real charm of this movie revolves around Buzz and Carson on their fishing trip where she slowly starts to fall for him despite him telling her things she doesn’t like (i.e. that she won’t get married to Harley) and Chip and Pudge at the beach learning more about each other.  While Carson and Buzz are slowly finding each other, Chip and Pudge are already head over heels for each other.  It’s really well written and done because one is a much more mature and, for a lack of a better word, lusty while the other is innocent, cute, and much more appropriate for two slightly more awkward people.

So now, it’s time for the big Miss Sun Fun competition and I have a sincere feeling my South will rise again.

Look Away!  Look Away! Look Away! Boner Land.

Nadine, the rival hot girl who gave me an incredibly confusing boner with her sultry dance to Dixie, wins easily when Melaina doesn’t follow suit and simply does a dramatic interpretation reading instead because Luanne suggested she be classier.  The weekend goes south (no pun intended because they are already way down south) when Harley shows up looking for Carson.  The other girls cover for Carson who escapes from being seen with Buzz.  Despite the other girls liking Buzz way more, she realizes she has to go back home with Harley.  She also struggles with the idea of hurting a good, god-fearing man like Harley and running off with Buzz.


We’re rushing toward the finale now and we have some threads that are starting to wrap up.  First, the girls devise a way to bring the celebrity judge of the Miss Sun Fun competition, Jimmy Valentine (kind of a dumber, douchier Elvis), to come to Luanne’s family’s plantation so Melaina can score with him.  Carson has completely disappeared with Buzz to avoid Harley.  However that’s okay because Luanne is starting to warm up to Harley herself.  Chip and Pudge are now marvelous dance partners and plan to compete in the Shag Contest the next day.  A full on party breaks out with kids wrecking the house and getting drunk off their asses.

While hiding in a boat behind the house, Buzz and Carson make out and ultimately have sex.  Melaina and Jimmy Valentine make out all night and dance and what have you.  Harley and Luanne realize they are more in love with each other than they knew – but they are also super drunk.  Chip reveals to Pudge that he’s leaving for the Naval Academy in a few days.  He also tells her he had hoped to fall in love with a girl before he left but he realizes he doesn’t have to because he can just write to Pudge which bums her out pretty bad because she’s clearly in love with him.  Though, to be fair to ol’ goofy Chip, he’s incredibly awkward and I think he knows he loves her, but has no idea of how to communicate that stuff.  More on that in a bit.

The next morning, reality kind of comes crashing back in on the girls.  Luanne’s parents are headed to the house which means the girls have to clear out because they are supposed to be in Ft. Sumter.  Carson has to also deal with Harley and try to figure out what to tell him about where she has been and what’s going on with her.  Buzz says she should just tell him she’s in love with him, which, frankly, would be the right thing to do, but what do I know?  He also tells her that he is going to Yale and he wants her to go to a school near there to visit him each weekend, but she gets pissed at him for the idea.  She decides to break it off with Harley, but claims also doesn’t want to be with Buzz either.

Despite Buzz and Harley coming face to face, the whole thing is blown off when he pretends to be Luanne’s boyfriend.  There’s a lot of other stuff that happens here too in this third act – Harley agreeing with Carson that he doesn’t really want to get married either but his father has invited half the state to the wedding, Melaina plans to dress as sexy as possible to go into town to snag someone to help her get to Hollywood, Melaina also coaches Pudge to be a bit mean to Chip to make him want her more, Harley and Luanne kiss, and Buzz and Carson seem to finally get their shit together.  Eventually, Carson also admits to Harley she’s in love with Buzz which leaves Luanne the chance to be with him instead.

All that’s basically left is for Pudge and Chip to get back together.  They eventually meet back up in town where they do indeed enter the Shag Contest and win. As this final scene plays out, I was just about to moan and complain that the dance contest scene goes on for too long as we watch duo after duo compete in the contest to the same song, but then I realize…  The name of the movie isn’t Four Likable Girls Find Love and Be Generally Charming, it’s called Shag: The Movie.  So, we’re going to see a TON of shagging.  Interestingly enough, we see like four couples dance to the same song and when it gets to Pudge and Chip, they dance to a completely different song – which is probably why they won.

The movie ends less with the girls truly coming to terms with their inevitable split with them heading off into their various directions based on their aspirations and boyfriends, and more with quick ties of the loose ends.  The only real emotional stamp on the girls’ relationship is them standing hand in hand on the plantation home’s front porch singing a variation of “Far Above Cayuga’s Waters”.  It doesn’t seem right how it ends, but I feel like it might have been an added on conclusion beyond each girl’s end with their guys and talking about where their life is going to take them.  It kinda seems as though there was probably more of a conclusion to this whole friendship than what we got but it might have been sacrificed in an edit or excised from the script during one of the rewrites.  Since the whole idea of the movie was to give these girls their final days together before life breaks them apart is said in the dance scene by Phoebe Cates, whatever restrictions this independent movie had probably forced this poor ending to happen.

Frankly, this movie is hardly bad.  It’s a product of Hollywood feeding the overall obsession audiences had with the 50s and early 60s.  It’s got a great soundtrack (sadly, copyright reasons make it almost impossible to see the film in its original version with its original songs), and generally likable characters.  It’s a little cartoonish but in a fun and harmless way.  Yeah, there’s a ton of southern accents and a lot of the Confederate Flag, but really, it’s set in a time when girls are meant to be proper, and to be a southern girl on top of that, the pressures to be faithful to men and the ways of the South was just the way life was.  It’s likely a movie that wouldn’t be made today.  Not only that, but the Confederate Flag aside, the copyright on the songs makes it pretty hard to find and even less likely to be re-released on home video or played on TV ever again.

That’s kind of an interesting thing about Phoebe Cates that will be on display time and time again this month.  While she wasn’t in too many movies that would have even been in the running for an Oscar, she seemed to pick her movies well.  These may be lesser known movies, and a few may not be generally well liked by all the critics, but they have a personality and at least an attempt to be something more than schlock or dreck.

So with that said, I turn to one of her TV movies next week with one of her earlier roles as the boyfriend-stealing younger sibling in Baby Sister.

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