Picks and Pans Review: Shag: the Movie

Phoebe Cates, Annabeth Gish

The title could be changed to Mostly Clean Dancing—we’re back to young ladies finding themselves through the miracle of social dancing, and it’s 1963 again. But if this movie isn’t a breakthrough, it is a pleasant coming-of-age tale from a female viewpoint (meaning there are no shower scenes featuring nubile young women). And the cast is uncommonly attractive.

Cates, at 25, is getting on a bit to be playing someone just out of high school. She’s a better actress now, though, than she was when she appeared in the more timely (for her) Fast Times at Ridgemont High. And, as one of four South Carolina girls off on a bachelorette party spree in Myrtle Beach, she is surrounded by a group of actors and actresses who, while talented, will still lay to rest any rumors that Hollywood frowns on nepotism.

The cast includes Carrie Hamilton (Carol Burnett’s daughter), Bridget Fonda (Peter’s daughter), Page Hannah (Daryl’s sister) and Tyrone Power Jr. The crew credits include another familiar name—set dresser Polar Bear, no doubt a relation of Gentle Ben’s.

Gish (no relation to Lillian), still a high school junior, is particularly impressive as a self-consciously chubby girl. Her tentative romance with Scott (Satisfaction) Coffey is one of the more charming subthemes. Hamilton is also snappy as a gang girl who competes with Fonda in a beauty contest.

The script, by Robin Swicord, Lanier Laney and Terry Sweeney, is light on complex humor. In the movie’s silliest moment, Cates cries, “We wanted to go to the beach and meet boys and go to wild parties and make out and dance!” Director Zelda Barron, who had various production credits on such films as Reds and Yentl, also tosses in background radio broadcasts about the civil rights movement and Vietnam, as if she thinks she ought to be making a more serious film.

She needn’t have worried. As long as the youngsters (you too, Phoebe) keep dancing and kissing, this is a sweet summer breeze of a movie. (PG)

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