The ’50s and early-’60s were somewhat of a transitional period in family life. Nuclear families, which were the norm in America, were being subverted. Sexual exploration was coming into the mainstream and becoming more acceptable. People weren’t just settling for a partner to have children with, but instead becoming more picky with their mates—often not thinking about kids at all. But what happens when sexual exploration makes it much harder to be picky? When potential mates are turned off by past endeavors? Or when there’s an ulterior motive to choosing a partner to begin with? All of these things are explored in 1960’s Where the Boys Are, even if we don’t necessarily get the film’s concrete opinion on the matter. And with a new culture being ushered in so quickly during that era, that’s to be expected.
The story is centered on four college freshmen, all girls, who go to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for Spring Break to meet boys. The first scene features our main protagonist, Merritt (Dolores Hart), in a classroom telling her teacher that premarital sex is something women should experience. Her impressionable friend, Melanie (Yvette Mimieax), takes this message to heart and decides to lose her virginity while in Fort Lauderdale, which only leads her down a rocky path towards heartbreak and depression. One of the other girls, Tuggle (Paula Prentiss), on the other hand, decides to meet a man while keeping her “legs closed”. She gets into a relationship with a quirky and goofy guy named TV (Jim Hutton). They’re relationship is admirable, if not commendable, and TV easily becomes the film’s most entertaining character.
Writer George Wells and director Harry Levin do a great job navigating the complexities of young women trying to find and keep a mate at the risk of compromising their own morals. Even though they want to remain pure, they find it difficult to find true love if every boy they meet is only concerned with sex. The movie acknowledges the deceptions that come with young love and relationships, as well as the misconceptions about sex made by people who think they’re mature enough to make mature decisions.
We truly feel for our female leads. Maybe because we knew a girl who got hurt by some jerk guy many years ago, or maybe because we were that jerk guy who now wishes we could’ve done things differently not to have hurt them. But we were immature, too. Where the Boys Are sympathizes with youth and immaturity as a whole, recognizing that most of us are going to face these dilemmas at one point or another.
The story loses a little traction in the final act, following a wacky, yet admittedly amusing slapstick routine involving a human-sized fish tank in the middle of a night club. Also, for a brief moment, the filmmakers take our favorite character and turn us against him. But for a teen romp, the movie as a whole remains pretty contained and focused.
There’s a quality to the comedy presented here as well, and there were several times where I found myself literally laughing out loud. One of my favorite bits is a long joke where the four girls initially offer for two strangers, who can’t find a vacant room in Florida, to crash on the floor of their small motel room. Over the course of the film, we quietly see more and more bodies sleeping on the floor of the room, until there are over a dozen people cramped in this tiny space. The joke isn’t played up at all, which only heightens the comedy.
Drive-in features marketed towards teenagers around this time had a tendency to lazily piece their plots together. But for a 60-year-old teen movie, Where the Boys Are only feels dated a few times. Overall, it knows what it’s doing. While the pacing is a bit slower than our standards nowadays, the film possesses a fresh and witty sense of humor, with themes that are still applicable in today’s social climate.