The Flamingo Kid is one of the most underrated films of the 1980s. It’s a complex story masked as a simple one. A movie with an overarching theme subtly interwoven throughout. It’s deceptively brilliant. Not to mention visually arresting with some absolutely beautiful shots.
Set in 1963, the film follows Jeffrey Willis (Matt Dillon), a teenager fresh out of high school who winds up with a summer job at a snooty beach club. He comes from a very middle class upbringing. His father (Hector Elizondo) originally gets his son a summer job as an office assistant and isn’t too pleased when Jeffrey finally takes the more cushiony job at the resort. He thinks he’s taking the easy route.
Dillon’s performance is spot-on. He’s magnetic as Jeffrey, showcasing a charisma that backs up why he ends up becoming a star in this industry.
One of the beach club’s most important members is Phil Brody (Richard Crenna), who takes a liking to Jeffrey and convinces him to ditch college and work for him as a car salesman. You’re never quite sure if Brody is just constantly trying to land a sale with everyone he meets–especially Jeffrey. Jeffrey’s relationship with Brody makes matters worse with his dad. Not only regarding Jeffrey’s future, but there’s an understated sense of jealousy there as well.
Like most 18-year-olds, Jeffrey is looking for a sure thing without ever realizing that they seldom exist. Or understanding that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Whichever cliche you choose, it never feels like one when watching this film. The themes aren’t shoved in your face. And that subtlety goes perfectly with the rest of the movie.
The narrative is relaxed. Like one you would want when watching a film about a beach club in the summer. It mixes the seemingly-random series of events of ’80s teen comedies with the fluidity of new era Hollywood. And it encapsulates the summer season more than almost any other movie I’ve seen.