This week, we open our Back to the Beach month with… BACK TO THE BEACH, a Frankie and Annette reunion complete with Fishbone, Pee-Wee, and helmets made of hair

Two Cents is a Cinapse original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team curates the series and contribute their “two cents” using a maximum of 200-400 words. Guest contributors and comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future picks. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion. Would you like to be a guest contributor or programmer for an upcoming Two Cents entry? Simply watch along with us and/or send your pitches or 200-400 word reviews to [email protected].

This month, we are heading to the beach with everything from goofy comedies to dramatic heartfelt films to off-the-wall slashers. As the one who originally pitched the idea, I decided on this first week to give you a personal intro… complete with a blurb from my mother – retired pastor, beach bum, and wonderful grandmother, Jane Harlan.

For those who don’t know much about me, I’m a pastor’s kid whose mother was a youth pastor when I was young before taking a call as a lead pastor in my late teenage years. Oddly, my pastor mother’s favorite movies were always Dirty Dancing and Pretty Woman, which always made me chuckle. She always loved Hallmark too… and these days she almost exclusively watches Hallmark to my film loving soul’s great dismay.

However, she also brough me up on two other film “genres”: classic American musicals and the beach films of Frankie and Annette. When Back to the Beach released as reunion of the beach party heroes, the whole family was dragged to the theater. Little did I know it would make such an impression on me, from being one of my earliest encounters with ska music (a scene that would play a prominent role in my teenage years) to informing my cinematic sensibilities in ways I still am discovering today.

My mother may not be a film nerd like me, but her tastes definitely helped cultivate certain preferences in me (outside of Hallmark, of course), so let’s kick it off with a few words from her:

When I was younger, I loved watching all these movies.   Perhaps, because I was a sap for love stories, and still am, and love the beach, I was drawn to these movies.  Loved the Gidget movies too. Boy, am I old and now have “graduated” to Hallmark.

Perhaps it was also because I adored the stars, many accomplishments they have had in their life, and think often of the Big Kahuna.

It’s a teenage memory etched in my heart and I was glad to share that with my kids.

(@janeharlan on Instagram)

Ed Travis

I was born in 1980 so I’m not even sure how or why I know that Frankie & Annette were, like, a cultural thing, and that beach movies and beach culture were associated with them? I always assume it was the existence of Nick At Nite that taught me about older cultural things from before my time. But until minutes before I started watching Back To The Beach I had absolutely no idea what the film was or why Justin would have picked it for us as a Two Cents title.

An 80s movie about the 60s, I had a blast with all the 80s stuff and was largely clueless about all the 60s stuff in this self-aware/meta romp. In fact I just read Annette Funicello’s IMDb bio in the middle of writing this paragraph and finally understand all the peanut butter jokes in the film referenced her real life series of Skippy commercials. Those jokes all landed with a thud for me because I had no idea why I was supposed to find a mom feeding her child tons of peanut butter to be humorous. Such is the challenge with comedies like these: They’re a real “if you know, you know” kind of thing. And I largely didn’t know.

But I guess the premise here is that the Frankie & Annette characters from a series of early 60s harmless beach comedies left the beach and raised kids and by chance end up back on the beach decades later with their punk teen boy and their young adult Lori Laughlin daughter, and 1980s hijinks ensue. Pee Wee Herman does a song, Fishbone does a song, Frankie gets back on a board, and Annette Mama Bears her way into all of our hearts. I would have enjoyed this film more if I’d had even the slightest inkling of awareness of who Frankie and Annette were, really, or had I been familiar with them as a cultural touchpoint. But as it is, with my limited understanding of what I was watching, I can appreciate the self-deprecating, self-aware nature of the throwback project and in some ways it feels ahead of its time as a lega-sequel before there were lega-sequels.

(@Ed_Travis on Xitter)

Austin Vashaw

I’m not sure what my expectations were for this throwback to the 60s beach party subgenre, but it surely surpassed them.

Frankie Avalon and (my wife’s namesake) Annette Funicello star as fictionalized versions of themselves, a married couple living inland with their beach party days long behind them. A visit to their adult daughter (Lori Loughlin) in their old stomping grounds on the California coast ignites old memories, new rivalries, and an impasse in their stagnating marriage.

It’s a thin premise, but Avalon and Funicello aren’t afraid of having a laugh at their own expense, and throw themselves into the pleasantly corny self-parody. The film has a feel-good vibe with several musical numbers, and I was in no way prepared for the completely random euphoria of Pee-Wee Herman (who is not otherwise a character in the movie) suddenly appearing to sing a rendition of Surfin’ Bird before vanishing into the night.

Like Ed, I was also sent down a rabbit hole of research, but whereas he caught up on the history of the beach party movies and their stars, I dug into the history of third wave ska, which I was extremely surprised to see more or less fully formed in a film from 1987.

    @VforVashaw on Xitter

    Frank Calvillo

    I always fancied myself more of a Sandra Dee/Troy Donahue type of guy with a splash of Tab Hunter thrown in for good measure, but I always respected the legacy left by both Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello. It only takes a single viewing of any one of beach-themed movies from the 1960s to know both their formula and appeal. The genre that Frankie and Annette practically pioneered all but encapsulated the idealized existence of California youth as the world believed it to be, or at least, wanted to believe it to be. While it didn’t make sense that to revive their on-screen personas two decades later, it’s easy to see why it was such a tempting idea. 

      Back to the Beach is far from a quality movie, but it is a clever one. The movie’s ability to send up both its two leads and itself is breathtakingly relentless. There’s no time wasted in getting keyed into the comedy angle of the whole affair, establishing its tone and managing to stupefyingly hold it all the way through. Frankie and Annette are both as game as can be even if a handful of the jokes are bond to fall flat, especially in the movie’s back half. Yet the nostalgia factor remains through the roof, playing into the hearts of those who grew up with the beach movie genre, and even a few of those who didn’t. It’s fair to feel that the cameos (Pee Wee Herman and Bob Denver, in particular) push things a little too much. Still, they don’t diminish Back to the Beach’s aim of reminding audiences to not take life so seriously, and more specifically, not to take getting older so seriously.

      (@frankfilmgeek on Xitter)

      Justin Harlan

      Despite this likely being the first time in a decade or more I’ve watched the film, I remembered virtually every plot point and was able to revel in the warmth and nostalgia of this beach blanket blast from the past. As I noted in the intro, this movie means a lot to me… one of a handful of movies from my youth that I know I’d never have been into if I saw in recent years, but am so happy was etched into my very soul as a youngster.

      The gang has highlighted most of the film’s ups and downs. Is the plot very strong? No. Are some of the 60s ideals a bit old fashioned, perhaps even offensive to modern sensibilities? Sure. Is is an extremely well made film? Absolutely not. But it’s fun 80s cheese rooted in fun 60s cheese and I can’t fault it for that.

      It put a big smile on my face to get Ed and the gang to watch this one and I was even able to have my mom chime in. For me, this is a perfect way to kick off a month of Cinapse heading to the beach and I hope you felt the same. If not, I’ll get Bobby to leave a cherry bomb in YOUR toilet!

      (@thepaintedman on Xitter)


      Every week in July, we’ll be headed to the beach. Sometimes it’ll be fun, other times it’ll be a difficult journey, and yet other weeks it may end up deadly! Join us this month by reaching out to any of the team or emailing [email protected]!

      July 8th – Cast Away
      July 15th – A Perfect Getaway
      July 22nd – Evil Under the Sun
      July 29th – Club Dread

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