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  Flamingo Kid, The Swimming With Card Sharks
Year: 1984
Director: Garry Marshall
Stars: Matt Dillon, Hector Elizondo, Richard Crenna, Jessica Walter, Molly McCarthy, Martha Gehman, Carole Davis, Janet Jones, Brian McNamara, Fisher Stevens, Leon, Bronson Pinchot, Frank Campanella, Richard Stahl, Joe Grifasi, Marisa Tomei, John Turturro
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: The year is 1963 and young Jeffrey Willis (Matt Dillon) has the hopes of his father Arthur (Hector Elizondo) on his shoulders, as he has been offered a place in an office job for the summer, arranged by his dad as a favour; from there, once the season is over, he will begin his further education in college, as he has been saving for. However, early on in the holidays, his friends show up to ask him if he is any good at cards, and invite him along to the beach club El Flamingo where they are convinced they can raise a small fortune. Basically, if you can make money gambling you need never work again, what could be sweeter than spending the summer raking in the profits anyway?

The director of The Flamingo Kid, Garry Marshall, had made his own fortune as a producer on sitcom behemoth Happy Days, but was keen to flex his artistic muscles in the cinematic realm. He would of course go on to helm Pretty Woman, so you can say he was very successful, but before that blockbuster many have expressed affection for this lesser known effort, which just about makes it a cult movie, though one of those eighties cult efforts that looked back to earlier times, waxing lyrical about the era the writers and directors grew up in, essentially. This had the excuse of having been written (by Neal Marshall, no relation) a good decade before, so it hailed from a time closer to the decade it was set.

Marshall (Garry) was a man who had come of age in the sixties, so just as the most famous example, Back to the Future, reminisced about the fifties childhoods of its creative team, here was a story that gazed back in warm remembrance on those days, though that was not to say it was entirely rose-tinted in its view. What was nice was that it gave Dillon the kind of lead the buzz around him said he deserved, as he was an up-and-coming talent who was trapped in teen movies at this point, and here was a chance to prove he really could carry a film that had a bit more self-awareness than his customary roles had done, brooding like a young James Dean, another instance of that nostalgia.

Therefore a shade more depth was delivered by Dillon, and that was why he built a cult following himself across the decade that endures to this day thanks to those who discovered him back then and those who discovered him later; a more instinctive actor than an intellectual one, you could tell casting directors were taking note if they caught him in movies like this. He had solid support too, with Elizondo and Richard Crenna as the twin father figures (one Jeffrey's actual father) who vie for his soul, or at least his future. Crenna played a wealthy businessman who prefers to spend the summer playing gin for big bucks around the pool as the better off New Yorkers and holidaymakers make the beach and its hotel their playground, and Jeffrey is attracted to this lifestyle in a manner we can understand.

The screenplay's main trouble was that no matter how fine it was at evoking its time and place (with well-chosen sixties oldies on the soundtrack, the occasional eighties tune stood out like a sore thumb), the plot still had a lesson to impart, yet it went about it with complacency. We can tell that Jeffrey is a good kid and will do the right thing by the end of the film, his eyes having been opened to the hollow allure of cheap moneymaking schemes, yet nevertheless it is succeeding at a cheap moneymaking scheme that allows him to do so. So he ends the film better off than he began, fair enough, but we are never quite convinced that lounging around raking in the cash would not be what he would rather be doing instead of working for a living, though you hope the college prospects will offer him a wider choice before he joins the daily grind. With that in mind, it was best to watch The Flamingo Kid as an evocation of 1963 New York, on that level it was very impressive - see the story as a delivery system for that time capsule. Oh, and see if you can spot Marisa Tomei. Music by Curt Sobel - it was a stage musical decades later.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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