I started this series of reviews at least partly so I’d have the chance to talk about this movie. “Summer Job” is, to we Brits, a really obscure example of 80s summer raunch, never released on DVD, “no image available” on Amazon, plenty of actors for whom this is their only credit, with a very peculiar feeling all round. Even though the plot isn’t all that unique, pretty much everything else about it is.
Realising that no-one cares about establishing a reason for the cast being there (the lack of a “we need to save the resort” subplot is refreshing), the opening is just everyone on their way to Resort X (it may have a name, but I forgot to write it down). I know I don’t normally do this, but a list:
- Kathy – the supervisor, cute and wholesome
- Bob – the “cool” douchebag
- Susan – the villain
- Jack – the cowboy
- Herman – the oddball
- Bruce – the “chubby” loner
- Karen – the airhead
- Barbara – the rich bitch
- Donna – the beach bum
- Tom – the man who was too terrible an actor for me to figure out what his thing was
But Tom’s not alone in being a rotten actor, oh no. With the honourable exceptions of Kathy (Sherrie Rose) and Herman (George O), the cast is spectacularly bad, a sea of woodenness. But that’s part of the charm!
One of the many other sources of charm is the OTT performances from all the supporting cast. There’s the amazing French waiter stereotype. There’s Cookie, the filthy sex pest; Mr Jacobs, resort social director, the filthy sex pest; and the woman referred to in the credits only as “The Big Woman”, the sex pest (but she just wants Mr Jacobs, which makes her okay). Jacobs is the sort of character that would trigger a shitstorm on Twitter if he appeared in a film today, who just mauls any passing female and threatens to get women fired if they won’t sleep with him. Back in the 80s he was an inconvenience that had to be tolerated – so he gets his ass kicked a few times and then raped towards the end by The Big Woman. Ah, the good old days!
I’d like to thank director Paul Madden for replying to my request for some stories. He’s still working, doing movies and corporate videos, so it’s decent of him to take time out to confirm a few of my pet theories about “Summer Job”, his first movie. One is that a lot of scenes were improvised – most obviously with George O, who delivers my favourite line (after pureeing a frog in a cocktail blender), “how about some lime in your slime?”
Another is the essentially amateur nature of the cast. Looking at IMDB, at least half the people in this movie have this as their only credit, but they were all a pleasure to film with, apparently, and worked like dogs. The budget of the movie was an eye-wateringly small $500,000 (for a movie shot on 35mm, with multiple locations, this is essentially nothing) so they had to, I guess. I know I was literally just mean to them, but good on them for giving it a go as non-professionals.
I tend to mock these sorts of movies for the blatant T&A, but it’s also important to realise where these demands come from. As director, Madden was told by the distributors to make sure there was plenty of nudity (sort of the sex-comedy version of the low-budget horror maxim, “you need blood, boobs and beast to sell your movie”). There’s nothing less sexy than doing naked casting calls at 8:30 in the morning, I would imagine.
A quick look at writer Ralph Wilson – he wrote three movies, one in 1978, this in 1989, and another in 2000. Do you think it took him a decade to polish each one? That everything in this movie was deliberately crafted is an amazing thing to think about. Or are there three different writing Ralph Wilsons and IMDB messed up?
As far as the plot goes, even being very kind to it you would say that not a lot happens. These people just work at a beach resort, really, with the worries about which section you’ll be working in, tips and so on. Awful pranks are played (dying someone’s skin blue, Deep Heat in someone’s jockstrap, that sort of thing); there’s the odd bit of romance, and Bruce decides to get in shape and train for his lifeguard certificate. This happens after a very unusual conversation with Kathy, where she calls him fat while stretched out in her underwear, stroking herself, wildly out of character. The film achieves this transformation by having him wear padding throughout the movie (he’s never out of thick sweaters, which must have been murder in Florida) until he’s finally in shape and can take it off…he’s partially inspired by seeing a guy work out by the pool. But this inspiration is filmed in the most insane way – we see a guy in a tiny thong doing pushups, then the camera pans to Bruce, staring at his crotch from a distance of about two feet, as if he’s never seen exercise before.
Kathy’s cruelty also inspires him. She basically has the thankless authority figure role, but every now and again, they’ll forget she’s feuding with wannabe supervisor Susan and they’ll switch from hating each other to laughing and plotting together, only to be back in the next scene to distrust. Sherrie Rose plays Kathy remarkably well, she’s head and shoulders above the rest of the cast, and is still busy today.
The only other thing you’d call a plot would be Herman and his journey to being a man. Karen throws herself at him but he turns her down, due to his inexperience with the opposite sex (when the girls discover this, they chase him round the resort, flashing him). To rectify this he goes to visit a local prostitute, who teaches him all about different sex positions and so on – but he actually does this to please Barbara, who’s such a horrible person that after she loses her job, she checks into the hotel as a guest and makes everyone’s lives hell. Luckily, Barbara finds this sexual awakening charming rather than insane and he wins the fair lady’s heart, after she has something of a damascene conversion to the side of light.
So take these thin threads of plot, tons of B-roll of people doing beach things, and seemingly endless musical montages (one immediately following another in a few cases, so many that “Summer Job” could be called a music video collection with bits of plot in between), and you’ve got yourself a movie! Aside from the flesh on display, the women mostly give as good as they get, too, which is nice. It’s a wild, fun and fascinating failure, with something unique about it.
One final story from director Paul Madden – to close out the summer, the hotel throws a party for the summer staff, and they get a band. This is a real band – a spinoff from pop superstars ELO called “OrKestra”, and they were enticed to be in the movie by producer Kenny Dalton. Well, a PA saw the word “orkestra”, thought it was an orchestra and sent a huge bus to the airport…to pick up five guys. While it might reasonably be said they aren’t my cup of tea musically, they sounded like good sports, not minding that the movie was somewhat smaller than they expected and staying to party with everyone when they’d filmed their spot.
I hope I’ve gotten across just how wonderfully odd “Summer Job” is. While my wife absolutely hated it, I loved it every bit as much as I ever did (I’ve seen this film a heck of a lot, down the years). I think it deserves a critical re-appraisal – not, I hasten to add, to get people thinking it’s a good movie, but to get some of that “Troll 2” sort of money. Although, it was apparently hugely profitable for Sony, getting a theatrical release, making tons of money on video rental and from it being a feature of late-night cable for many years. A classic, of sorts, with enough little bits of weirdness here and there to encourage multiple rewatches.
Rating: thumbs up