REVIEW: Shag (1989)

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1989, Hemdale Film Company

Director:
Zelda Barron
Producers:
Julia Chasman
Stephen Woolley
Writers:
Lanier Laney (story and screenplay)
Terry Sweeney (story and screenplay)
Robin Swicord (screenplay)
Cinematography:
Peter MacDonald
Editing:
Laurence Mery-Clark

Cast:
Phoebe Cates (Carson)
Scott Coffey (Chip)
Bridget Fonda (Melaina)
Annabeth Gish (Pudge)
Page Hannah (Luanne)
Robert Rusler (Buzz)
Tyrone Power Jr. (Harley)
Jeff Yagher (Jimmy Valentine)
Paul Lieber (The Agent)
Leilani Sarelle (Suette)
Carrie Hamilton (Nadine)
Jay Baker (Big Bob)
Donald Craig (Senator Clatterbuck)
Shirley Anne Field (Mrs. Clatterbuck)

This coming of age tale set in 1963 South Carolina is highlighted by the titular “shag dancing” as well as the cast of talents in the film.

Having graduated from Spartanburg High School, summer has come for best friends Carson, Melaina, Pudge, and Luanne. Carson is engaged to be married to longtime boyfriend and tobacco heir Harley while Luanne and Pudge have their sights set on college. As for Melaina, she has no idea what she wants to do with her life. Luanne, the daughter of Senator Clatterbuck, devises a plan in motion for the best friends to have one last hurrah together.

Without Carson’s knowledge, the girls plan to take Carson to Myrtle Beach. However, when they arrive, Melaina just wants to have fun. Luanne wants the girls to keep their self-respect. Pudge is obsessed with shag dancing and hears of a contest and all Carson wants to do is call Harley. However, the girls’ lives soon change when they run into two local boys, Buzz and Chip. Buzz relentlessly flirts with Carson, who despite rejecting Buzz’s advances, seems to end up falling for him while Chip and Pudge find themselves having a connection. When all madness goes down at a party at Luanne’s parents’ house in Myrtle Beach, Harley even arrives and with a dance contest the next day, the four best friends soon learn what they really want out of their lives as individuals but also keep the power of friendship.

The term “Shag” has many different meanings with perhaps the most famous being “sleeping with someone” as a famous International Man of Mystery would use on occasion. However, the term here is in reference to the Carolina Shag, a style of dance similar to swing dance that originated in the 1940’s and with the film’s setting in 1963 South Carolina, this is the perfect meaning to the film. Who better than one of the most renowned dance choreographers today, Kenny Ortega, to bring the Carolina Shag to life, especially when we see the dance being obsessed by the character of Pudge, played by Annabeth Gish.

This is truly a film with a sense of nostalgia as we are taken to the south in 1963, where interestingly enough, racism was to be somewhat at an all-time high, but never depicted in this film. Instead, the house band at Myrtle Beach is treated with the utmost respect from the fans. The film instead focuses on four best friends who spend one last weekend together in honor of the one friend who is set to get married. It is this character, Phoebe Cates’ Carson, who goes through the most change out of the four as she goes from wallflower to very confident woman thanks in part to her relationship with Buzz, played by Robert Rusler, who plays the typical bad boy with a heart of gold many are used to see him playing during this era.

Bridget Fonda’s Melaina is somewhat promiscuous, or at least seen that way but she tends to be more of a tease but perhaps it is because she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life until she meets a teen idol and his agent. Page Hannah’s Luanne, like Carson, goes through quite a change herself. She goes from mature to somewhat immature when one, she devises the plan to go to Myrtle Beach and two, she unleashes her wild side which eventually attracts someone unexpected in the film. Another great performance comes from the late Carrie Hamilton, who as Nadine, definitely has her mother’s chops when it comes to accents. For those not in the know, Hamilton’s mother is none other than one of the greatest comediennes of our time, Carol Burnett. Here, Hamilton and Leilani Sarelle come off as redneck Southern villains who think the friends have no place at Myrtle Beach and especially find a threat in Melaina.

Shag is definitely a nostalgic trip to the 1960’s South, notable Myrtle Beach, highlighted by the performances of the ensemble and Kenny Ortega’s wonderful dance choreography that highlights the Carolina shag dance. Nostalgia and 1980’s film fans may want to give this one a look.

WFG RATING: B+

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